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

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Vol. 3 No. 50

LOUNGE THE WEEKEND MAGAZINE

YOUR SHOPPING SECRETS DECODED Which day of the week are you least likely to shop? What makes the Indian man special? Why do our stores look crowded? Lounge unravels the art and science of how we shop

BUSINESS LOUNGE WITH GURURAJ DESHPANDE >Page 9

BANGALORE BOYS GO RADIO GA GA

Remote­controlled car racing revs up in the city, with new tracks, a growing number of enthusiasts, and a national championship >Page 8

SANTA LIVES HERE

For a Christmas with the big man and reindeers, there’s only one place to go >Page 12

>Page 10

THE PAN­INDIAN PULSE Raju Hirani on his new film, turning big ideas into films, and Aamir Khan’s perfectionism >Page 17

REPLY TO ALL

AAKAR PATEL

WHY WE DON’T PAY FOR CULTURE

I

s India an ancient civilization on the cusp of modernity? Or is it actually a 3,500-year-old civilization in an advanced state of decay? We believe it’s the former, and middle-class Indians take pride in their belief that we are living in one of the world’s great cultures. Manmohan Singh loves to quote the famous lines of Iqbal: Yunan-o-Misr-o-Roma, sab mitt gayay jahan se: Ab tak magar hai baqi naam-o-nishan hamara (ancient Greece, Pharaonic Egypt and Imperial Rome are all dust, but India lives on). >Page 4

THE GOOD LIFE

GAME THEORY

SHOBA NARAYAN

A CHAOS THEORY OF FESTIVALS

M

ore than the national flag; more than debates about immigration such as the one France is having; more than how elections are run and won; the way a nation celebrates and condoles reflects—I would argue—the way its citizens live and die. American celebrations are programmed, demonstrating its belief in and expertise with systems. Weddings have rehearsals. Can you imagine an Indian wedding with a “rehearsal” the day earlier? >Page 4

ROHIT BRIJNATH

DON’T MISS

in today’s edition of

OF CHAMPIONS AND HEROES

I

had heroes once as a boy. Posters Scotch taped to my walls, athletes fastened to my heart. How did they do those things? The footballer running with ball glued to foot, the helmet-less cricketer walking out to fast bowler, the twisting diver. I stood on the couch. God, I said; Gods, I thought. Then I grew up and became a sportswriter and crossed that line that separates us from them. It was a fine education because I am intrigued by what... >Page 5

COPENSTOCK


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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2009

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2. Tom Ford: Metal rim aviator sunglasses, Rs17,800. 3. Duchamp: Multicoloured striped woollen scarf, Rs12,000. 4. Hackett: Black biker jacket from the Aston Martin collection, Rs24,000. 5. Salvatore Ferragamo: Orange and grey sports shoes, Rs26,000. 6. Ravi Bajaj: Ivory crepe wool bandhgala with ombré dyed panels, Rs25,000. 7. Just Cavalli: Brown wrap­around sunglasses, Rs4,400. 8. Salvatore Ferragamo: Printed red silk tie, Rs9,000. 9. Rajesh Pratap Singh: Indigo denim single­button jacket, Rs13,750. 10. Tag Heuer: Tag Heuer Carrera automatic chronograph with leather strap, Rs1.87 lakh. 11. Dolce & Gabbana: ‘Martini’ white jacket with blue detailing, Rs1,37,513. 12. Diesel: Red washed canvas blazer, Rs15,300.

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Top coat RETAIL THERAPY

1. Aquascutum: Wool and linen jacket with herringbone effect and contrast collar, Rs31,000.

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Look sharp and get kitted out this party season in our picks of day and evening jackets in shiny linen, velvet, leather and polka dots

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STYLE L13

LOUNGE

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

NIGHT

1. Versace: Cropped blue leather jacket with zipper pockets, approx. Rs1 lakh. 2. Ermenegildo Zegna: Cherry red moccasins with tassels, Rs42,800.

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10. Emporio Armani: Blue velvet slim fit jacket, Rs50,000. 11. Etro: Purple polka­dot silk tie, Rs7,616.

4. Versace: Deep blue scarf in rex fur, approx. Rs50,000.

8. Montblanc: Sport chronograph watch with metal strap, Rs1,74,200.

13. Etro: Evening jacket with yellow printed collar detailing, Rs99,909.

5. Ashish Soni: Gold silk single­button1 jacket,2

9. Narendra Kumar: Grey 14. Kenzo: Red and black 4 5 double­collar 6 13 14 woollen scarf, Rs12,500. metallic linen

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6. Dolce & Gabbana: ‘Martini’ silk blue and white­dotted evening jacket, Rs1,47,992.

12. Dolce & Gabbana: Leather belt with studs, Rs48,825.

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jacket, Rs35,850.

7. Tod’s: ‘Gommini’ winter boots in brown leather, Rs30,000.

3. Ravi Bajaj: Black and white polka­dot jacket, Rs18,000.

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Aquascutum: The Collective, Bangalore; and Palladium, Mumbai u

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Soni: DLF Emporio mall, New Delhi

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SHOPPING GUIDE

u Diesel:

Coming soon to India. Visit www.diesel.com Dolce & Gabbana: Thanks, Worli, Mumbai u

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Duchamp: The Collective, Bangalore; and Palladium, Mumbai u

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Emporio Armani: DLF Emporio mall, New Delhi u

Ermenegildo Zegna: Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Mumbai; and DLF Emporio mall, New Delhi u

Etro: Thanks, Worli, Mumbai u

Hackett: The Collective, Bangalore; and Palladium, Mumbai u

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Just Cavalli: At all leading optical outlets and department stores nationwide u

Kenzo: JW Marriott, Mumbai u

Montblanc: Montblanc boutiques in Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai and New Delhi u

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Narendra Kumar: Aza Men, Mumbai u

Rajesh Pratap Singh: Aza Men, Mumbai u

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Ravi Bajaj: Greater Kailash­1, New Delhi u

Salvatore Ferragamo: The Galleria and Grand Hyatt Plaza, Mumbai u

Tag Heuer: At UB City, Bangalore; Grand Hyatt Plaza, Mumbai; and DLF Emporio mall, New Delhi u

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Tod’s: At UB City, Bangalore; The Galleria, Nariman Point, Mumbai; and DLF Emporio mall, New Delhi u

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LOCATION COURTESY: TOTE ON THE TURF, MAHALAXMI, MUMBAI PHOTOGRAPHS: ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT


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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

PHOTO: ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT; MODELS: RAASHI MALHOTRA, KHUSHI/ ELITE MODEL MANAGEMENT; DRESS: NITIN BAL CHAUHAN AT MUSE AND (RIGHT) FCUK; ACCESSORIES: BAG: CHARLES AND K EITH; BELT: M USE; SHOES: ALDO AND NINE WEST; LOCATION: MUSE, KALA GHODA, MUMBAI

What is the day of week you are least likely to shop? What makes the Indian man special? Why do our stores look so crowded? Lounge unravels the art and science of how we shop

SHOP TALK WOMEN TEND TO CHECK THE BILL, MEN DO NOT

YOUR SHOPPING SECRETS DECODED

B Y V EENA V ENUGOPAL veena.v@livemint.com

···························· he Indian shopper is a mystery. In the last few years, as large business houses and international retailers have set out to woo the Indian shopper, they have tried to unravel the puzzle of how we shop. Now, after a reasonable amount of testing and retesting hypotheses, they realize that most of their earlier assumptions have been turned on their heads. The formula, that as a nation and its people get richer they would want these products, sold in this fashion at this price, simply does not hold good for India. We are how we shop. And how we shop is a function of our past, our collective history as a nation, our economics past and present. This is what makes us difficult to predict, the reason why we do not follow the formula. Consumer research in India unravelled that we buy in smaller lots, because our past economic life has not allowed us higher levels of disposable income. We buy around our festivals, because that’s part of how we celebrate. We buy as a family, because shopping is an outing, an avenue of entertainment, not a chore. But the profile of the Indian shopper also details that we will not travel for more than 15 minutes to shop for our staples. We will not be blindly loyal to a store or a brand. At the end of the day, we are the most efficient value hunters in the world.

SHOP TALK

T

Venus & Mars go shopping Nowhere are gender differences as stark as they are in the shopping aisle. Indian men and women are complete opposites in the way they approach shopping, with their own set of eccentricities. Retailers hate to see a man and a woman walk in together—one impatient, feeling trapped and desperate to get it done with; the other relishing the prospect of a few hours of brows-

ing, smelling, touching, the complex mathematics of comparing prices, and loving it all. It’s a disharmonious journey, one that rarely has a happy ending. When men walk into a supermarket, they often pick the baskets or the smaller trolleys. Women eye large carts because they like the notion of excess capacity, in case things take a happy turn and the shelves are lined with deals. If they are shopping together, the organizational structure is fixed. The man pushes the cart, the lowergrade job, and the wife (and children) are the hunters and gatherers. Occasionally, his opinion is sought while comparing two offers. Women usually carry a list if they are shopping alone. Men walk back and forth between aisles while they decide what they want. While buying clothes, if a man walks into the trial room, the probability of him buying something is very, very high, says Damodar Mall, group customer director of Future Group, the company that runs Big Bazaar, Pantaloons and other retail chains. If a woman walks into the trial room, it is just one step in the process. Indian stores often have a larger number of trial rooms for women. Also, there is more space in the area outside the trial rooms as women always need somebody else’s approval before buying clothes. We have to put it on, step out, twirl around, tug and have the other person say it looks

super smashing before we decide to buy it. There are also more sales assistants assigned to the women’s section. This makes the single shopper a unique being, says Vinay Bhatia, vice-president, Shoppers Stop. “He is there to buy for sure, but he has no one to discuss things with. So when we have a single shopper, we assign a salesperson to assist him t hr o ug ho ut t he sto re . The y would move across sections, providing suggestions and advice as the single shopper has no one else to seek for opinion.” The best shoppers are two women. They are purposeful, goad each other to spend more and they are focused. A group of more than two women is a diffused group that tends to wander about.

Space check Ever noticed how small our supermarkets are compared to those in other countries? And how crowded the checkout lines seem here, with people pressing against each other? That’s because we like it that way. Ridiculous as it sounds, it has its rationale in the deep-rooted notion we have about space. For one, an empty store is perceived to be an unsuccessful one. If only a handful of people are shopping there, we assume that the products will not be fresh and the prices will be high. So a smaller store with the same number of shoppers makes us believe it is a better one. Also, we are uncomfortable with the notion of large spaces. This is

SHOP TALK

perhaps historical baggage that we carry, the need to claim spaces as our own before someone else does. While waiting at a traffic signal, if the car next to ours moves forward an inch, we move too. “If there is more than one elbow r o o m between you and the person ahead of you in a line, it makes you uncomfortable. The space becomes a thoroughfare and you get worried that someone might jump the queue and stand there,” Mall says. So people tend to stand close to each other even when there is space.

Fashionably modest

WEEKDAY SHOPPERS ARE MOST LIKELY TO BE GROUPS OF FRIENDS MOST COMMON REASON FOR MEN TO GO GROCERY SHOPPING: THEY ARE DESIGNATED DRIVERS AVERAGE TIME SPENT BROWSING IN LANDMARK BOOKSTORE: 2 HOURS IF YOU ARE SHOPPING ALONE, YOU ARE MORE LIKELY TO GO ON A WEEK­ DAY THAN THE WEEKEND INDIA IS THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, ACCORDING TO McKINSEY, WHERE THE SIZE OF THE MEN’S APPAREL MARKET (ORGANIZED) IS LARGER THAN THE WOMEN’S INDIANS TRAVEL MORE THAN 15 MINUTES FOR GROCERIES ONLY IF THE TOTAL SAVINGS ARE GREATER THAN THE COST OF TRANSPORT WOMEN RARELY BUY ELECTRONICS AND CONSUMER DURABLES BY THEMSELVES

SHOP TALK

When it comes to dressing, even the urban and the more fashionable among us are more modest than we believe. While we buy and wear clothes cut to international standards, we still prefer conservative necklines. Marks & Spencer, the international retailer, customizes women’s tops in India to reflect this. Though it offers its whole range here, the V-neck tops with a higher neckline sell more than a really deep-cut V. “We also sell a lot of tops with buttons in the front so that the wearer can customize the length of the neckline to what they are comfortable with,” says Adam Colton, head of merchandise, M&S Reliance, the joint venture between Marks & Spencer and Reliance Retail.

Colour­me­plenty Who would want to wear the same navy, grey, black every day? So, how many colour options do we like? 8? 12? 15? The answer is well over 30. And

THE McKINSEY SURVEY SAYS INDIAN SHOPPERS ARE THE LEAST LOYAL TO A STORE. THE REPORT STUDIED SHOPPERS IN BRAZIL, RUSSIA, INDIA, CHINA AND SOUTH AFRICA AND COMPARED THEM WITH SHOPPERS IN THE US & FRANCE FOR FASHION­ ORIENTED STORES, BLUE INTERIORS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH MORE FAVOURABLE EVALUATIONS, MARGINALLY GREATER EXCITEMENT AND HIGHER PURCHASE INTENTIONS

The sari factor: We love low­rise jeans, like the pair actor Gul Panag is wearing.

YOGEN SHAH

SHOP TALK

that’s for menswear. M&S stores sell polo neck T-shirts for men in 30 colours in India, six internationally. While there are certain predominant colours every season, the Indian shopper likes to see options in all his favourite shades. If he has 10 shirts at home, his 11th shirt would have to be in an 11th colour lest people think he wears the same blue T-shirt every Friday to office.

The impact of the loyalty card is slightly lower if it comes free. If you pay for the card, you might as well handcuff yourself to the store and throw away the keys. You will always go back to the store to make your planned purchases—a lipstick that you need to buy anyway may as well earn you some points—and end up buying a few other things.

You cook, but my way While we may have begun experimenting with Vietnamese food and absinthe when we dine out, at home we want our dal cooked to the exacting standards set by our mothers. Few might have the time to wash and chop vegetables, but please don’t tell us how much ginger to add in the bhuna masala. “Our experience is that the shopper would like us to take away some of the negative labour, but they will not engage with us on taste,” Mall says. So we are likely to go shopping and buy chopped and packed vegetables, but try selling us a packet of ready-to-eat chana masala, and we turn our shopping carts around. “What the Indian customer is really telling us is: Modernize the form of what you are giving us, but keep the taste specific,” Mall adds.

One for all, all in one Ever wondered why bookstores in India don’t sell only books? They always have an assortment of music, toys and stationery. The answer to that question is the great Indian family. Even when we go to buy books, we rarely go alone. Once inside, the spouse who is not interested in reading and the children wander off. So bookstores in India have had to find space to keep them occupied. Enter music and toys. “On an average, a customer browses for 2 hours in our stores. So it is imperative that the people accompanying him/her also have something to keep them occupied,” says Madhu M., head of merchandising, Landmark.

Brands online

Centrepiece The highest selling fit for women’s jeans in India is the low–rise waist. You might rationalize that low-waist jeans teamed with a kurti is the best way to camouflage a muffin (the little excess bit of the stomach that falls over the belt). But the real reason is historical: Indian women, traditionally sari wearers, are comfortable displaying their midriffs. However, exposing legs is taboo. None of our traditional attire allows any display of hamstring, and horror of horrors, knees! Organized apparel retailers sell very little quantities of skirts and shorts.

Deep pockets The single most significant feature that clinches a shirt deal is not the colour, fabric or fit but the presence of a pocket. In most Western markets, shirts and T-shirts are sold without pockets because men wear jackets over them. In India, since everyday dressing does not involve jackets, it is mandatory that shirts come with pockets, so there is a place to keep your pen, spectacles and what have you.

Bin there done that The Indian shopper loves pulling things out, nonchalantly disturbing a neat arrangement. It is a throwback to the bazaars where the merchandise was placed in heaps. Though placing bins with products is an international practice, more product categories are sold through bins in India. Shopping is about hunting, according to the Indian psyche. You hunt for the best value, the best piece. So the idea of pulling things out until you find the perfect product appeals hugely to us. Shopping is also more rewarding when it is tactile.

Double bill: (above) Two women make the best shoppers; people who buy denims are most likely to buy a pair of sunglasses. your price offering,” he adds. The reason we shop more frequently for fresh produce is because it is only in the last 25 years or so that most urban families have had refrigerators. Even today, the power infrastructure across the country is unreliable. We have a deep-seated suspicion of storing things and because of our frugal past, a morbid fear of being forced to waste. Yet we do not trust pre-packaged foods. A McKinsey report of September 2008 about the Indian shopper, The Great Indian Bazaar, says 65% of Indians would never buy pre-packaged food. Compare this with 24% in China and 6% in the US.

SHOP TALK

Plus one What is the product you are most likely to buy when you get a pair of jeans? It’s not a shirt or socks, it’s sunglasses. Shoppers Stop intensely scrutinized the shopping habits of its 1.45 million loyalty card holders, the First Citizen club members. They analysed each bill and ran the numbers to see the correlation. “Our data reveals that people who bought denims were highly likely to buy a pair of sunglasses. So now we have put these two sections together,” says Bhatia. The other, more reasonable, correlation can be seen in salwar-kurta sets and ethnic footwear. The numbers also suggest that women who buy Western wear or office wear are more likely to buy cosmetics.

Catch ’em young Children in department stores are a Indian phenomenon. Indian retailers love children because the shopper would invariably buy a few things that were not on the shopping list. Pester power wins over all. If the children are below 5, the parents decide what to buy. Otherwise, store assistants are trained to show options to the children themselves and sideline

the parents. By the time they are 10, children have opinions and influence parents. “The involvement of children in the shopping process is ideal for the customer and the shopkeeper,” says Mall. “We now see children who are so aware of products that they have logical and well-informed opinions,” Bhatia says. When a group of teenagers go shopping, they are likely to browse more, try on and buy more. They have a cap on bill sizes though, as most of them pay cash and do not have access to credit cards. Retailers use this to pitch, for instance, feature-heavy, yet cheaper versions of mobile phones and accessories.

The tight leash of loyalty The loyalty card is a minefield for the Indian shopper. If you sign up for one, chances are you feel subconsciously tied down to the store. You visit more often, buy more things and run up a higher bill value. “The average ticket size (value of the bill) is higher by over double-digit percentage between the First Citizen and the regular shopper,” says Bhatia. On an average, a regular card holder would buy 2.5 items per bill in the store, while it is over 3 for a First Citizen. SUDHANSHU/MINT

Fresh take Grocery shopping, in the developed world, is a weekly or fortnightly activity. “In India, people stock up fresh products only for two days,” says K. Venkatramani, chief marketing officer, Bharti Retail, which runs the Easy Day chain of stores. “Also, the Indian consumer knows the prices of about 150 products. They are able to compare prices and are constantly evaluating. So it is essential that you be consistent with

Life’s colourful: Indian men get a choice of up to 30 colours in polo T­shirts. Globally, it’s about five.

Metros today give access to most big brands available anywhere in the world. But how do we buy our favourite Ralph Lauren T-shirt or Tommy Hilfiger briefs if we happen to live in Kohima or Port Blair? Online, of course. “A lot of our customers are spread across 660 cities in India. They come online purely to access the brands that are not available in their town,” says Deepa Thomas, senior manager, eBay India. Though internationally people who buy on eBay prefer to bid in the auctions, in India customers prefer to buy at a fixed price. Also, the predominant Indian online buyer is aged 20-40, unlike the developed markets, where they tend to be older.

Designs on you Designing a store in India is a bit of a nightmare. “In India we have had to think differently with some aspects of the store experience. For example, creating wider aisles to accommodate larger groups of shoppers at one time, because many people in India like to shop with the whole family,” says David Blair, managing director, South Asia, Fitch, which provides design consultancy for retail stores. Our preference for a wide colour palette goes beyond our wardrobe. “Indians’ love of colour is well known and we have found that when we have brought concepts to India from elsewhere we have had to brighten up the whole experience to appeal to local tastes,” Blair says.

Pick it or nick it The annual Global Retail Theft Barometer ranked India right on top, for the second year in a row. Shrinkage—the loss of goods in retail stores—is at 3.2% of turnover. The most stolen items in our stores are electronics, cosmetics, alcohol, apparel and jewellery. Some of the simple ways to steal include cutting off the electronic tag while in the changing room, wearing multiple layers of clothing and walking out, and pocketing small items of cosmetics. But the higher numbers occur when customers collude with retail employees. Right under the unblinking video camera, the employee does not actually scan all the items that are bagged. We can’t help it, we just love a steal!


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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2009 ° WWW.LIVEMINT.COM

PHOTO: ABHIJIT BHATLEKAR/MINT; MODELS: RAASHI MALHOTRA, KHUSHI/ ELITE MODEL MANAGEMENT; DRESS: NITIN BAL CHAUHAN AT MUSE AND (RIGHT) FCUK; ACCESSORIES: BAG: CHARLES AND K EITH; BELT: M USE; SHOES: ALDO AND NINE WEST; LOCATION: MUSE, KALA GHODA, MUMBAI

What is the day of week you are least likely to shop? What makes the Indian man special? Why do our stores look so crowded? Lounge unravels the art and science of how we shop

SHOP TALK WOMEN TEND TO CHECK THE BILL, MEN DO NOT

YOUR SHOPPING SECRETS DECODED

B Y V EENA V ENUGOPAL veena.v@livemint.com

···························· he Indian shopper is a mystery. In the last few years, as large business houses and international retailers have set out to woo the Indian shopper, they have tried to unravel the puzzle of how we shop. Now, after a reasonable amount of testing and retesting hypotheses, they realize that most of their earlier assumptions have been turned on their heads. The formula, that as a nation and its people get richer they would want these products, sold in this fashion at this price, simply does not hold good for India. We are how we shop. And how we shop is a function of our past, our collective history as a nation, our economics past and present. This is what makes us difficult to predict, the reason why we do not follow the formula. Consumer research in India unravelled that we buy in smaller lots, because our past economic life has not allowed us higher levels of disposable income. We buy around our festivals, because that’s part of how we celebrate. We buy as a family, because shopping is an outing, an avenue of entertainment, not a chore. But the profile of the Indian shopper also details that we will not travel for more than 15 minutes to shop for our staples. We will not be blindly loyal to a store or a brand. At the end of the day, we are the most efficient value hunters in the world.

SHOP TALK

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Venus & Mars go shopping Nowhere are gender differences as stark as they are in the shopping aisle. Indian men and women are complete opposites in the way they approach shopping, with their own set of eccentricities. Retailers hate to see a man and a woman walk in together—one impatient, feeling trapped and desperate to get it done with; the other relishing the prospect of a few hours of brows-

ing, smelling, touching, the complex mathematics of comparing prices, and loving it all. It’s a disharmonious journey, one that rarely has a happy ending. When men walk into a supermarket, they often pick the baskets or the smaller trolleys. Women eye large carts because they like the notion of excess capacity, in case things take a happy turn and the shelves are lined with deals. If they are shopping together, the organizational structure is fixed. The man pushes the cart, the lowergrade job, and the wife (and children) are the hunters and gatherers. Occasionally, his opinion is sought while comparing two offers. Women usually carry a list if they are shopping alone. Men walk back and forth between aisles while they decide what they want. While buying clothes, if a man walks into the trial room, the probability of him buying something is very, very high, says Damodar Mall, group customer director of Future Group, the company that runs Big Bazaar, Pantaloons and other retail chains. If a woman walks into the trial room, it is just one step in the process. Indian stores often have a larger number of trial rooms for women. Also, there is more space in the area outside the trial rooms as women always need somebody else’s approval before buying clothes. We have to put it on, step out, twirl around, tug and have the other person say it looks

super smashing before we decide to buy it. There are also more sales assistants assigned to the women’s section. This makes the single shopper a unique being, says Vinay Bhatia, vice-president, Shoppers Stop. “He is there to buy for sure, but he has no one to discuss things with. So when we have a single shopper, we assign a salesperson to assist him t hr o ug ho ut t he sto re . The y would move across sections, providing suggestions and advice as the single shopper has no one else to seek for opinion.” The best shoppers are two women. They are purposeful, goad each other to spend more and they are focused. A group of more than two women is a diffused group that tends to wander about.

Space check Ever noticed how small our supermarkets are compared to those in other countries? And how crowded the checkout lines seem here, with people pressing against each other? That’s because we like it that way. Ridiculous as it sounds, it has its rationale in the deep-rooted notion we have about space. For one, an empty store is perceived to be an unsuccessful one. If only a handful of people are shopping there, we assume that the products will not be fresh and the prices will be high. So a smaller store with the same number of shoppers makes us believe it is a better one. Also, we are uncomfortable with the notion of large spaces. This is

SHOP TALK

perhaps historical baggage that we carry, the need to claim spaces as our own before someone else does. While waiting at a traffic signal, if the car next to ours moves forward an inch, we move too. “If there is more than one elbow r o o m between you and the person ahead of you in a line, it makes you uncomfortable. The space becomes a thoroughfare and you get worried that someone might jump the queue and stand there,” Mall says. So people tend to stand close to each other even when there is space.

Fashionably modest

WEEKDAY SHOPPERS ARE MOST LIKELY TO BE GROUPS OF FRIENDS MOST COMMON REASON FOR MEN TO GO GROCERY SHOPPING: THEY ARE DESIGNATED DRIVERS AVERAGE TIME SPENT BROWSING IN LANDMARK BOOKSTORE: 2 HOURS IF YOU ARE SHOPPING ALONE, YOU ARE MORE LIKELY TO GO ON A WEEK­ DAY THAN THE WEEKEND INDIA IS THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, ACCORDING TO McKINSEY, WHERE THE SIZE OF THE MEN’S APPAREL MARKET (ORGANIZED) IS LARGER THAN THE WOMEN’S INDIANS TRAVEL MORE THAN 15 MINUTES FOR GROCERIES ONLY IF THE TOTAL SAVINGS ARE GREATER THAN THE COST OF TRANSPORT WOMEN RARELY BUY ELECTRONICS AND CONSUMER DURABLES BY THEMSELVES

SHOP TALK

When it comes to dressing, even the urban and the more fashionable among us are more modest than we believe. While we buy and wear clothes cut to international standards, we still prefer conservative necklines. Marks & Spencer, the international retailer, customizes women’s tops in India to reflect this. Though it offers its whole range here, the V-neck tops with a higher neckline sell more than a really deep-cut V. “We also sell a lot of tops with buttons in the front so that the wearer can customize the length of the neckline to what they are comfortable with,” says Adam Colton, head of merchandise, M&S Reliance, the joint venture between Marks & Spencer and Reliance Retail.

Colour­me­plenty Who would want to wear the same navy, grey, black every day? So, how many colour options do we like? 8? 12? 15? The answer is well over 30. And

THE McKINSEY SURVEY SAYS INDIAN SHOPPERS ARE THE LEAST LOYAL TO A STORE. THE REPORT STUDIED SHOPPERS IN BRAZIL, RUSSIA, INDIA, CHINA AND SOUTH AFRICA AND COMPARED THEM WITH SHOPPERS IN THE US & FRANCE FOR FASHION­ ORIENTED STORES, BLUE INTERIORS ARE ASSOCIATED WITH MORE FAVOURABLE EVALUATIONS, MARGINALLY GREATER EXCITEMENT AND HIGHER PURCHASE INTENTIONS

The sari factor: We love low­rise jeans, like the pair actor Gul Panag is wearing.

YOGEN SHAH

SHOP TALK

that’s for menswear. M&S stores sell polo neck T-shirts for men in 30 colours in India, six internationally. While there are certain predominant colours every season, the Indian shopper likes to see options in all his favourite shades. If he has 10 shirts at home, his 11th shirt would have to be in an 11th colour lest people think he wears the same blue T-shirt every Friday to office.

The impact of the loyalty card is slightly lower if it comes free. If you pay for the card, you might as well handcuff yourself to the store and throw away the keys. You will always go back to the store to make your planned purchases—a lipstick that you need to buy anyway may as well earn you some points—and end up buying a few other things.

You cook, but my way While we may have begun experimenting with Vietnamese food and absinthe when we dine out, at home we want our dal cooked to the exacting standards set by our mothers. Few might have the time to wash and chop vegetables, but please don’t tell us how much ginger to add in the bhuna masala. “Our experience is that the shopper would like us to take away some of the negative labour, but they will not engage with us on taste,” Mall says. So we are likely to go shopping and buy chopped and packed vegetables, but try selling us a packet of ready-to-eat chana masala, and we turn our shopping carts around. “What the Indian customer is really telling us is: Modernize the form of what you are giving us, but keep the taste specific,” Mall adds.

One for all, all in one Ever wondered why bookstores in India don’t sell only books? They always have an assortment of music, toys and stationery. The answer to that question is the great Indian family. Even when we go to buy books, we rarely go alone. Once inside, the spouse who is not interested in reading and the children wander off. So bookstores in India have had to find space to keep them occupied. Enter music and toys. “On an average, a customer browses for 2 hours in our stores. So it is imperative that the people accompanying him/her also have something to keep them occupied,” says Madhu M., head of merchandising, Landmark.

Brands online

Centrepiece The highest selling fit for women’s jeans in India is the low–rise waist. You might rationalize that low-waist jeans teamed with a kurti is the best way to camouflage a muffin (the little excess bit of the stomach that falls over the belt). But the real reason is historical: Indian women, traditionally sari wearers, are comfortable displaying their midriffs. However, exposing legs is taboo. None of our traditional attire allows any display of hamstring, and horror of horrors, knees! Organized apparel retailers sell very little quantities of skirts and shorts.

Deep pockets The single most significant feature that clinches a shirt deal is not the colour, fabric or fit but the presence of a pocket. In most Western markets, shirts and T-shirts are sold without pockets because men wear jackets over them. In India, since everyday dressing does not involve jackets, it is mandatory that shirts come with pockets, so there is a place to keep your pen, spectacles and what have you.

Bin there done that The Indian shopper loves pulling things out, nonchalantly disturbing a neat arrangement. It is a throwback to the bazaars where the merchandise was placed in heaps. Though placing bins with products is an international practice, more product categories are sold through bins in India. Shopping is about hunting, according to the Indian psyche. You hunt for the best value, the best piece. So the idea of pulling things out until you find the perfect product appeals hugely to us. Shopping is also more rewarding when it is tactile.

Double bill: (above) Two women make the best shoppers; people who buy denims are most likely to buy a pair of sunglasses. your price offering,” he adds. The reason we shop more frequently for fresh produce is because it is only in the last 25 years or so that most urban families have had refrigerators. Even today, the power infrastructure across the country is unreliable. We have a deep-seated suspicion of storing things and because of our frugal past, a morbid fear of being forced to waste. Yet we do not trust pre-packaged foods. A McKinsey report of September 2008 about the Indian shopper, The Great Indian Bazaar, says 65% of Indians would never buy pre-packaged food. Compare this with 24% in China and 6% in the US.

SHOP TALK

Plus one What is the product you are most likely to buy when you get a pair of jeans? It’s not a shirt or socks, it’s sunglasses. Shoppers Stop intensely scrutinized the shopping habits of its 1.45 million loyalty card holders, the First Citizen club members. They analysed each bill and ran the numbers to see the correlation. “Our data reveals that people who bought denims were highly likely to buy a pair of sunglasses. So now we have put these two sections together,” says Bhatia. The other, more reasonable, correlation can be seen in salwar-kurta sets and ethnic footwear. The numbers also suggest that women who buy Western wear or office wear are more likely to buy cosmetics.

Catch ’em young Children in department stores are a Indian phenomenon. Indian retailers love children because the shopper would invariably buy a few things that were not on the shopping list. Pester power wins over all. If the children are below 5, the parents decide what to buy. Otherwise, store assistants are trained to show options to the children themselves and sideline

the parents. By the time they are 10, children have opinions and influence parents. “The involvement of children in the shopping process is ideal for the customer and the shopkeeper,” says Mall. “We now see children who are so aware of products that they have logical and well-informed opinions,” Bhatia says. When a group of teenagers go shopping, they are likely to browse more, try on and buy more. They have a cap on bill sizes though, as most of them pay cash and do not have access to credit cards. Retailers use this to pitch, for instance, feature-heavy, yet cheaper versions of mobile phones and accessories.

The tight leash of loyalty The loyalty card is a minefield for the Indian shopper. If you sign up for one, chances are you feel subconsciously tied down to the store. You visit more often, buy more things and run up a higher bill value. “The average ticket size (value of the bill) is higher by over double-digit percentage between the First Citizen and the regular shopper,” says Bhatia. On an average, a regular card holder would buy 2.5 items per bill in the store, while it is over 3 for a First Citizen. SUDHANSHU/MINT

Fresh take Grocery shopping, in the developed world, is a weekly or fortnightly activity. “In India, people stock up fresh products only for two days,” says K. Venkatramani, chief marketing officer, Bharti Retail, which runs the Easy Day chain of stores. “Also, the Indian consumer knows the prices of about 150 products. They are able to compare prices and are constantly evaluating. So it is essential that you be consistent with

Life’s colourful: Indian men get a choice of up to 30 colours in polo T­shirts. Globally, it’s about five.

Metros today give access to most big brands available anywhere in the world. But how do we buy our favourite Ralph Lauren T-shirt or Tommy Hilfiger briefs if we happen to live in Kohima or Port Blair? Online, of course. “A lot of our customers are spread across 660 cities in India. They come online purely to access the brands that are not available in their town,” says Deepa Thomas, senior manager, eBay India. Though internationally people who buy on eBay prefer to bid in the auctions, in India customers prefer to buy at a fixed price. Also, the predominant Indian online buyer is aged 20-40, unlike the developed markets, where they tend to be older.

Designs on you Designing a store in India is a bit of a nightmare. “In India we have had to think differently with some aspects of the store experience. For example, creating wider aisles to accommodate larger groups of shoppers at one time, because many people in India like to shop with the whole family,” says David Blair, managing director, South Asia, Fitch, which provides design consultancy for retail stores. Our preference for a wide colour palette goes beyond our wardrobe. “Indians’ love of colour is well known and we have found that when we have brought concepts to India from elsewhere we have had to brighten up the whole experience to appeal to local tastes,” Blair says.

Pick it or nick it The annual Global Retail Theft Barometer ranked India right on top, for the second year in a row. Shrinkage—the loss of goods in retail stores—is at 3.2% of turnover. The most stolen items in our stores are electronics, cosmetics, alcohol, apparel and jewellery. Some of the simple ways to steal include cutting off the electronic tag while in the changing room, wearing multiple layers of clothing and walking out, and pocketing small items of cosmetics. But the higher numbers occur when customers collude with retail employees. Right under the unblinking video camera, the employee does not actually scan all the items that are bagged. We can’t help it, we just love a steal!


A DECADE OF CONQUESTS AND FALLEN HEROES

SPORTS PLUCK, LUCK & FILM COLUMNS LOTS OF MUCK MOVIES F TECH STYLE GAMING ADS ART BOOKS TV MUSIC COMICS TRAVEL FOOD

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We saw many firsts, including an Olympic individual gold and the No. 1 rank in Test cricket. The unsavoury controversies went hand in hand ZAINAL ABD HALIM/REUTERS

or Indian sport, the decade began with agony and ended in ecstasy. In early 2000, when the match-fixing scam broke, the country’s cricket establishment was in tatters. To believe then that towards the end of 2009 India would be the top-ranked Test-playing nation would have been construed as a sign of lunacy. In the last 10 years, India has consolidated its hold over cricket to an extraordinary degree—and not necessarily on the playing field. Inherent obsession with the game and rapid economic growth has shifted the power base of the sport to India, which is now the El Dorado for players, coaches and aficionados, as manifested by the Indian Premier League (IPL). This decade has also seen other disciplines jostle hard for attention. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have won multiple Grand Slam doubles titles with and without each other; in cue sports, India remains ahead of the curve; in badminton, there is a clutch of young players led by Saina Nehwal who look good to challenge the Chinese; in chess, Viswanathan Anand still rules; in wrestling and boxing, Indians are coming into their own. Abhinav Bindra won India its first individual Olympic gold medal and almost overnight, the acute pessimism that imbues Indian sport looked to be dissipated. A solitary gold is not a revolution, but perhaps a change was set in motion.

2000: MATCH­FIXING SHOCKER

While tapping the cellphone of a bookie, the Delhi police stumbled on a match-fixing scam that was to devastate the sport. Early denials by South African captain Hansie Cronje, who had the phone, soon changed into a remorseful confession in front of the King’s Commission in which he implicated former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin. Soon, Pakistan’s captain Salim Malik was

dragged into the controversy, apart from several lesser lights. In the years since, Cronje died in a plane crash, Malik has just had the ban on him lifted and Azhar has been elected as a member of Parliament.

2001: LAXMAN­DRAVID EPIC AGAINST OZ V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid scripted arguably the greatest turnaround in cricket history with a partnership of 376. Following on 274 runs behind Australia, India had lost four second innings wickets for 232 runs when these two came together in an astonishing batting revival. India eventually won by 171 runs. Laxman’s 281, since exceeded by Virender Sehwag’s two triple centuries, is still rated as the best innings by an Indian.

2001: GOPICHAND WINS ALL ENGLAND TITLE Badminton in India was on the decline when Pullela Gopichand beat Chinese Chen Hong 15-12, 15-6 to win the All England Open Badminton Championships. For 21 years since Prakash Padukone had won this first, India’s shuttlers had struggled in the global arena. Gopichand showed himself to be not just a champion but also a man of robust principles when he spurned a lucrative offer to endorse a soft drink. A dodgy knee ended his career prematurely, but his contribution to Indian sport has not dwindled: Rising star Nehwal is his protégé.

2005: CHAPPELL­ GANGULY SPAT Greg Chappell’s email to the Board of Control for Cricket in India complaining about the then captain Sourav Ganguly was unprecedented not just for its content, but also its length (2,606 words). Tension between the coach and captain, festering for a while, erupted into a major controversy on the tour of Zimbabwe when Ganguly alleged publicly that Chappell had asked him to step down.

Divine: (clockwise from left) Sachin Tendulkar; Vijender Singh; Saina Nehwal; Rahul Dravid (right) and V.V.S. Laxman.

JACQUES DEMARTHON/AFP

RAVEENDRAN/AFP


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SPORTS FILMS CO MOVIES GA STYLE G ADS A BOOKS T MUSIC C TRAVEL F LANGUAG BY A YA Z MEMON

DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP

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ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP

Ayaz Memon has been there, seen that and lived to tell some good sports stories

Chappell responded with his infamous email. A temporary truce was worked out on tour, but the die had been cast. By the end of the year, Ganguly had lost his job and less than two years later, Chappell his.

2007: ANAND BECOMES WORLD CHAMPION Forty years old this December, Anand is still the “Lightning Kid” on the chessboard and India’s most enduring sports champion. Having won almost every title along the way since he first started attracting attention 26 years ago, the high point of Anand’s career came in Mexico in September 2007 when he won the title after the reunification of the rival chess bodies. He had first won the FIDE (World Chess Federation) title in 2000, but that time the chess world was divided.

2007: T20 WORLD CHAMPS Crisis was looming large over Indian cricket when M.S. Dhoni took his young team to South Africa for the inaugural

Twenty20 (T20) world championship without Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly, Laxman and Anil Kumble. Less than six months earlier, India had failed to get past the first round in the World Cup. Nobody here took T20 seriously, nobody gave Dhoni’s side a chance to win. Yuvraj Singh’s blinding innings against England, which included six sixes in an over, was one of many splendid performances by a bunch of ambitious youngsters playing under an inspiring captain who won the title. The future of Indian cricket—indeed cricket—was to change forever, as the IPL which arrived the following year was to show. Drawing inspiration from American pro sports leagues, the IPL was stitched together hastily by Lalit Modi to stymie the rival Indian Cricket League. Modi married showbiz and big business to cricket. Team franchises were created for millions of dollars, players were auctioned for mega bucks and the razzmatazz that

followed was inevitable. By the second tournament, the IPL had become the sixth most valued property in international sport.

2008: BINDRA GETS GOLD IN BEIJING The medal at the Olympics broke a jinx that had lasted more than a century. Before the young shooter from Chandigarh hit the bullseye in the 10m air rifle event, India’s gold medals had come only in hockey—and none since 1980 in Moscow. Bindra’s achievement triggered countrywide jubilation and also inspired a couple of other young athletes to excel. Boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar both won bronze medals. The breakthrough had been made, now for the consolidation.

2009: ADVANI WINS WORLD PRO TITLE India boasts of perhaps the richest legacy in cue sports in the world (Wilson Jones, Michael Ferreira, Geet Sethi,

Om Agarwal, Yasin Merchant, to name a few). So it is no surprise that one more world champion should sprout among us. But even so, Pankaj Advani’s achievements are staggering enough to suggest that he might be the best ever. In September, he won the World Professional Billiards Championship in Leeds to cap a wonderful run of successes beginning with the Karnataka State Junior snooker championship in 1997, when he was only 12.

2005/2009: THE HYDERABAD GIRLS

Not since P.T. Usha singed the tracks in the 1980s have sportswomen captured the imagination of the nation as have Sania Mirza and Nehwal, the girls from the city of the Charminar. Mirza took the country by storm in 2005 when she reached the third round of the Australian Open and the fourth round in the US Open. Her aggressive strokeplay and glamorous persona made her a pin-up girl and a superstar

Champions: (from left) Pankaj Advani, Abhinav Bindra at the Beijing Olympics; and Pullela Gopichand.

overnight. In stark contrast to the tennis player, Nehwal became national champion in 2007 when only 17 and has taken rapid strides since then. At the 2008 Olympics, she reached the quarter-finals, and in 2009, she became the first Indian woman to win a Super Series event in Indonesia. Currently ranked No. 6 in the world, aficionados believe Nehwal’s best lies in the future.

2009: NO. 1 TEST SIDE

Towards the close of the decade, India became the No. 1 ranked Test cricket nation in the world. This top ranking was the culmination of two years of deep strategizing and hard work under two fine captains, Kumble and Dhoni. Beginning with the drawn rubber against South Africa in 2008, India had beaten Australia, England, New Zealand (away) and Sri Lanka in successive series.


A DECADE OF STARS, ORIGINALITY AND OVERTHROWING OF CONVENTIONS

FILMS COLUMNS TECH MOVIES DEEP FOCUS GADGETS Process STYLE GAMING ADS ART BOOKS TV MUSIC COMICS the List TRAVEL FOOD LANGUAGE

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We’ve seen and loved both small and big films—as long as they had content, boldness and innovation. Our movies list celebrates this variety

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e chose to meet the panel—comprising a film-maker, a CEO, a critic and a censor board official—at Mumbai’s quintessentially filmy hotel, the JW Marriott, to talk films over beer, whisky and nimboo paani (the CEO chose the last). The longlist was ready, and the yardstick for selection laid out: the most significant films in terms of box-office success, and films with unusual ways of storytelling. We were anticipating heated arguments; a consensus didn’t seem easy. But as it turned out, the longlist of more than 30 films was whittled down to 15 in the first half hour—an early indicator, perhaps, of the fact that there haven’t been too many great films after all. This decade has been one of extremes for the industry. On the one hand, for the very first time, some traditional notions governing commercial film-making were overthrown—content was supreme, the driving force behind most successful films. This was the decade of the small film. Although films such as Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, Haasil and Chandni Bar didn’t make it to our list, our panel discussed them at length. This was also the decade when budgets skyrocketed and the notion of “big” films changed forever—“big” (such as Blue) didn’t necessarily translate to big money at the box office. Among the 10 films that were chosen, the consensus for seven was, again, quite easy. There weren’t many surprises—any movies of the decade list would include Lagaan and Lage Raho Munna Bhai, for instance—but for Lounge, one that stood out was not finding any of Vishal Bhardwaj’s films in the list. Bhardwaj is one of the most important directors of the decade, distinguished by his innovative storytelling. But it was a democratic process. For the last two spots, our panel debated among five choices: Luck by Chance, Kaminey, Chak de! India, Chandni Bar and Taare Zameen Par. In the end, each vote mattered.

Montage: (clockwise from above) Stills from Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi; Taare Zameen Par; Chak de! India; and Rang de Basanti.

romance of the decade. The chemistry between Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapur is sparkling, there are some great lines, and the emotional upheavals are juxtaposed with the characters’ ordinariness. After a long time, the female lead plays an integral part in a Hindi film. The prospect of the couple not being able to be together lends the film a certain sweet sadness.

CHAK DE! INDIA (2007)

DIL CHAHTA HAI (2001)

Farhan Akhtar’s directorial debut, the panel agreed, captures the real pulse and milieu of urban youth. It talks to the youth in their language. It is a self-contained film, with attention to detail and some great performances. Akhtar is not afraid to show weak moments, and songs are used in an integrated way to take the narrative forward. It has a freshness that few films since have been able to replicate.

LAGAAN (2001)

For Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan, the consensus was arrived upon all too easily. It is classic, epic cinema. The sheer outrageousness of the concept of the film worked well with our panel—a real cricket match, an ignorant villager taking on the British, romance between him and an English girl, it all seems seamless and real in the film. The music adds to the epic quality.

COMPANY (2002)

Sanjukta Sharma

With Company, director Ram Gopal

Varma delivers the best gangster film of the decade, reinventing the genre post-Satya in the process. While the panel agreed that Satya is Varma’s most complete film, they felt that the first half of Company is even better. Elements in the film, such as editing, sound and cinematography, are actually used to move the narrative forward, and not merely add something extra. Company is worth watching over and over, and is a study in the craft of making a stylish gangster film.

person or for society or politics.

RANG DE BASANTI (2006)

The film Rang de Basanti holds the unique distinction of transcending the screen to became a movement, albeit a short-lived one. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s second effort taps into the prevailing public sentiment—a sense of frustration with the establishment. The performances are superb and the music adds to the film’s reach and impact.

LAGE RAHO MUNNA BHAI (2006)

HAZAARON KHWAISHEIN AISI (2005)

Among the first Hindi films of the decade to portray how the political and the personal can be inextricably linked, Hazaaron Khwaishein presents a nuanced understanding of politics, poignantly capturing an era’s idealism and how it ultimately failed the youth. Through the film, director Sudhir Mishra tells us that passion could be for a

the

Panel

SRIRAM RAGHAVAN

is a crime noir aficionado, and has directed two films, ‘Ek Haseena Thi’ (2004) and ‘Johnny Gaddaar’ (2007), which established him as an original voice in Indian cinema. He is at work on his third film, ‘Agent Vinod’.

VINAYAK AZAD

is a bureaucrat on deputation as regional officer, Central Board of Film Certification, Mumbai. A film buff, Azad says being at CBFC has somewhat taken the joy out of films, but he still watches the best before anyone does.

SIDDHARTH ROY KAPUR

is the CEO of UTV Motion Pictures. As a young boy, he scanned pages of every film magazine. Ever since he joined UTV, he has been overseeing the making of some of UTV’s most successful films of the decade.

NANDINI RAMNATH

is the managing editor of ‘Time Out’, Mumbai, and writes the fortnightly movies column Stall Order for Lounge. A passionate critic and commentator, she has previously worked with ‘The Indian Express’.

Rajkumar Hirani visits history in an inventive way in the sequel to the first Munna Bhai film and delivers something much better. Gandhigiri became a phenomenon in its wake. Hirani’s direction achieves the right balance of poignancy and humour. The simplicity is layered. It is a complete entertainer.

JAB WE MET (2007) Imtiaz Ali’s Jab We Met was voted the best A hit: Sanjay Dutt as Munna Bhai.

Chak de! India is the perfect underdog story. There is a man; and there is a team of women, each one with her own quirks. The film possesses an electric energy, and while you know all along what the end will be, it is a thrilling ride, thanks to the control in Shimit Amin’s direction. Chak de! was Shah Rukh Khan’s best role in the decade.

TAARE ZAMEEN PAR (2007) Aamir Khan, who directed Taare Zameen Par, achieved something unprecedented in commercial Hindi cinema: He made a film where the lead character was a child and he introduced a Bollywood star in the film only in its second half; still, the movie fetched more than Rs60 crore at the box office. Darsheel Safary is unforgettable as the dyslexic boy and there is a very strong emotional core to Taare... that appeals to everyone. The film reflects both commitment and sensitivity.

DEV.D (2009)

Although Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday was on the panel’s longlist, it was Dev.D which finally made the cut. The film introduces a sensibility not seen before in our cinema. It is a heady trip no doubt, but it has great, well-etched characters too. The story of Devdas is incidental to the film, which is about troubled people who plunge into the dark and have no way of coming out. There are no heroics, and yet the film touches a chord and makes you sympathize with the characters. Kashyap is definitely one of the most talented directors around.


A DECADE OF ENGAGING NON­FICTION AND DIVERSITY IN FICTION

BOOKS TV MUSIC COMICS TRAVEL FOOD

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BOOKS A WELCOME AND MUSIC NEW MATURITY J TRAVEL

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BY CHANDRAHAS CHOUDHU RY

The progress report for Indian literature in English says it’s a promising, vibrant and curious student

Urban splendour: Mumbai is the backdrop of some of the best books since 2000; (below, from left) authors Amartya Sen, Salman Rushdie and Jhumpa Lahiri. KUNAL PATIL/HINDUSTAN TIMES

VOICES WITH VISION

Poetry, translation, a late work of a master, and Rushdie—our books panel agreed on an inclusive and eclectic list

the

Process A

longlist of 40 odd books, the compilation of our panellist’s individual lists, got us started on the books panel discussion at Taj Lands End, Bandra, Mumbai. Some choices were unanimous: Vikram Chandra’s staggering Bombay crime novel, Sacred Games; the other great Bombay book, Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City; a collection of Arun Kolatkar’s best poetry, Kala Ghoda Poems; and Ramachandra Guha’s acute examination of contemporary India, India After Gandhi. The collective buzz of dinner conversations around us faded as the panellists scrutinized the list and made passionate cases for and against some of the titles. Poet Jeet Thayil’s choice of the collected works of A.K. Ramanujan in translation aroused curiosity because none of the others on the panel had read it. Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss didn’t find favour with three panellists, yet it made it to the list. Uniquely for this list, each vote didn’t matter as much as the case made out for a title. Among the questions thrown up during the conversation: Is Amitav Ghosh a better writer of non-fiction than fiction? Yes, said three panellists. Why is Arundhati Roy an important writer although she is primarily a polemicist? It is her iconic cultural status, said Soumya Bhattacharya. The idea behind this list, as with the other lists in the issue, is to recommend to our readers titles they might have missed out on. The panellists consciously arrived at a selection that is inclusive—there is poetry, translated works, and books by young writers as well as the masters. Sanjukta Sharma

SUBHENDU GHOSH/HINDUSTAN TIMES

work that has equalled this effort. It has ambition, a tremendous structure, and a great set of real characters reminiscent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

HALF A LIFE by V.S. Naipaul (2001) One objection to Naipaul’s writing has always been that he skips things a novelist should not. It’s almost as if he’s bored of doing the David Copperfield kind of novel, and skips entire swathes of his character’s life. Even then, Half a Life is unputdownable. It brings up timeless subjects as well as Naipaul’s old obsessions; it’s the late work of a master. Naipaul is revered for his craft, he is a writer’s writer, and yet he is not a difficult writer to read.

THE ARGUMENTATIVE INDIAN by Amartya Sen (2006) One of the reasons you read Sen is that he is a gateway to other authors. He has rigour and doesn’t take short cuts. The style is his own; his is a gentle voice that never knocks you out with a point, and yet is persuasive. The book also displays a great depth of engagement with his subjects. The title is an invitation to a new kind of Indianness.

KALA GHODA POEMS by Arun Kolatkar (2004) Kolatkar’s Jejuri has just been issued by the New York Review of Books Classics and he is likely to end up being the face of Indian poetry, whether that’s deserved or not. His works have been translated into several European languages and he’s had an incredible impact. Even if you were to read Kala Ghoda Poems in vacuum, as a book of poetry about a city, it has few parallels.

THE OXFORD INDIA RAMANUJAN by Oxford University Press (2004) Running to 200 odd pages, this volume is the distillation of a life’s work. A.K. Ramanujan received the McCarthy Award when he was in his 30s, and deservedly so. The poem The Black Hen that his wife rescued from his computer has 13 short lines, which allude to death and the fear of creative juices drying up. A scholar can easily write a chapter on the poem—it has all the allusions and mythological references. But that doesn’t take away anything from the pleasure of reading it. All of Ramanujan’s poetry has that beauty.

SHALIMAR THE CLOWN by Salman Rushdie (2005) After a string of indifferent novels, people wondered whether

Panel

is a Mumbai­based poet who edited ‘60 Indian Poets’, an acclaimed anthology of Indian poetry. He is also a literary critic and is currently at work on his first novel.

COURTESY RANDOM HOUSE INDIA

FICTION/POETRY:

Rushdie’s talent had deserted him. He proved them wrong with Shalimar the Clown. In the sections on Kashmir, he went back to what made him a writer in the first place. It has become fashionable to say that the new Rushdie novel is bad, but his not-so-good also deserves to be in a “best of the decade” list.

SACRED GAMES by Vikram Chandra (2006) The breadth of ambition, the high-flown, lyrical English, yet a narrative grounded in the sediments of Hindi—there are many Hindi swear words—make Sacred Games a great book. Despite the bulk (900 pages), it is insanely readable. With some very memorable passages which one can revisit, the book aspires to be the great Bombay novel. It is also a subversion of the concept of the traditional crime novel; and yet it is a serious crime novel.

SOUMYA BHATTACHARYA

is the author of a memoir, ‘You Must Like Cricket?’. His novel, ‘If I Could Tell You’, has just come out. He is editor of the Mumbai edition of the ‘Hindustan Times’.

SANJAY SIPAHIMALANI

read as art history and literature.

THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS by Kiran Desai (2006) The remarkable attention to detail and the language make Desai’s second novel a great work. She explores the tension between the aspirational middle class and some of the big themes about India.

UNACCUSTOMED EARTH by Jhumpa Lahiri (2008) Lahiri’s last book qualifies because of its lyricism and attention to detail. In her understated fashion she looks at the minutiae of life, her fiction reminding you that a coaster or a table mat can be as important as Rushdie’s Saleem Sinai. Here she has perfected the craft of writing about the American Bengali milieu; you almost admire her for her stubborn refusal to leave home.

RED

BETWEEN THE ASSASSI­ NATIONS

by Allan Sealy (2006) Sealy is an underrated writer even though his corpus is amazing—from Trotter-Nama to Everest Hotel, he has written many kinds of books. Written in an unabashedly literary style, Red is a particularly clever and brave work that can be

by Aravind Adiga (2008) In his second published book, which was written before the Booker-winning The White Tiger, Adiga doesn’t take short cuts. The short stories here have persuasive characters and a reader needs to work harder to get to the heart of the

the

JEET THAYIL

AFP

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found: Suketu Mehta, Penguin, 600 pages, Rs399.

is an executive creative director with Bates 141 Mumbai, and has reviewed books for the ‘Hindustan Times’, ‘The Indian Express’ and ‘Biblio’.

CHANDRAHAS CHOUDHURY

has been the ‘Lounge’ book critic ever since the magazine’s first issue. His first novel, ‘Arzee the Dwarf’, came out this year to rave reviews.

book. There is great attention to detail and there is a poise about the writing. There is also a corrosive rage and an unbuttoned-ness that shows Adiga’s comfort level with nasty characters. That is a useful quality to have when writing fiction about India.

SIX ACRES AND A THIRD by Fakir Mohan Senapati (in translation, 2005) The original in Oriya was written about 100 years ago and then revived in this decade. The work should be read for its beauty of technique. Few novels speak in the first person plural and by doing this, the book instantly aligns with the village that it is set in. While Senapati has an eye on colonial rule, his work is not just an indictment of colonialism. It also looks inward at some of the things that bind the people of the village. His style is an offshoot of the Victorian novel.

NON­FICTION: BIHAR IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER by Vijay Nambisan (2000) Nambisan takes a subject like Bihar and manages to avoid all the cliches—of both technique and content. The book is about him

and his wife living in a Bihar village, and in that tiny canvas, he brings in big things such as crime and politics. There are beautiful line drawings throughout that he has done himself, and the language is that of a poet.

THE IMAM AND THE INDIAN by Amitav Ghosh (2002) A great book because of its breadth and depth, The Imam displays a kind of critical renaissance thinking on subjects as diverse as the Baburnama, the poet Aga Shahid Ali, and books from Ghosh’s grandfather’s shelf. He is a better non-fiction writer.

STEP ACROSS THIS LINE by Salman Rushdie (2003) An inquisitive mind takes on the great books of the world. In this collection of essays, Rushdie also talks about subjects such as fundamentalism and a U2 concert. The work provides an insight into one of the great public intellectuals of our time. And, through this book, you can also get close to Rushdie—for the first time he writes about his personal reaction to the fatwa.

AN END TO SUFFERING: THE BUDDHA IN THE WORLD by Pankaj Mishra (2004) Commonly known as “the Buddha book”, it spans genres—memoir, travel writing, history and philosophy. It also has some very original thinking. Mishra manages to connect disparate subjects and makes the connections convincing. It is sad that he doesn’t have the cachet in India that he deserves.

MAXIMUM CITY: BOMBAY LOST AND FOUND by Suketu Mehta (2004) For a panoramic look at Mumbai, it’s hard to think of any previous

INDIA AFTER GANDHI by Ramachandra Guha (2007) It’s not easy to capture 60 years of history in a single volume. Unlike many books in this genre, this doesn’t have an ideological slant; everyone can find points of agreement with Guha. It’s a great one-stop history text about India the way it is today. Guha is also a polished stylist and the reader doesn’t get bogged down by details here.

Half a Life: V.S. Naipaul, Picador, 226 pages, Rs225.

MOHANDAS: A TRUE STORY OF A MAN, HIS PEOPLE AND AN EMPIRE by Rajmohan Gandhi (2007) Biographies of the most famous Indian abound, but this one is epic in its scope. Written by the Mahatma’s grandson in a fluid, beautiful style, this volume is a resource on Gandhi for the young, and one of the most thrilling stories on Indian politics.

Sacred Games: Vikram Chandra, Penguin, 968 pages, Rs495.

THE UGLINESS OF THE INDIAN MALE AND OTHER PROPOSITIONS by Mukul Kesavan (2008) Kesavan is the kind of essayist who can string together a series of striking thoughts in sparking prose, which is cerebral yet easy to read. He visits many territories in this book and it’s a joy to read.

CURFEWED NIGHT by Basharat Peer (2008) Peer has humanized the Kashmir conflict in this very consciously and beautifully crafted memoir. Although he is an insider, he does not let his emotions come in the way of his style. This is the first real look from the inside at the tangled situation in Kashmir and it is difficult to read it without feeling the state’s —and Peer’s—pain.

Unaccustomed Earth: Jhumpa Lahiri, Random House, 352 pages, Rs450.

ust as it has taken Indian democracy the best part of 60 years to activate the social and political energies of a majority of its citizens, including many traditionally disenfranchised groups, similarly, it might be said, it has taken Indian literature in English (which is a few decades older than Indian democracy) a very long time to achieve a density and diversity equal to the social and linguistic energies available to it. A great deal more needs to be done before this literature, which for the most part speaks from, and for, metropolitan India, can be said to be truly representative in the social sense and truly independent in the linguistic, aesthetic and philosophical sense. Yet, looking back at the last decade, one might say that the progress report is mostly encouraging. It is encouraging for the simple reason that a literature comes of age not when it has produced three or four great novels, but when it reliably throws up a number of very good ones regularly, and when a high percentage of what comes through meets a certain quality standard. Further, for a literature to be considered mature, the place of readers cannot be underestimated. Any vibrant literature requires a sizeable number of discerning readers who not only follow the work of writers but are in some sense in advance of them, and whose impatience with sterile forms and stories creates an atmosphere of ferment and ambition where distinctive personal visions and bold new energies can exercise their spirits. Again, from the publishing side, a literature appears mature when it is not just one or two big presses that control what is published, distributed and consumed, but when a wide array of publishing agendas and interests compete for the attention of readers, and a large pool of talent is available to make good books better through the processes of good editing, production, design, and astute publicity. If we take all these as indicative guidelines, Indian literature in English has certainly become a much bigger, brighter place in the last 10 years: the first decade in which it has truly been part of a globalized world. The typical first-time novelist or short-story writer in English today is much less self-conscious in his or her approach to the language than, say, two decades ago, and much more sure of his or her audience. In a multicultural and globalizing world, in the age of the Internet and with easy access to a hospitable market, Indian writers are also likely to be from more diverse backgrounds than previously, and to have a far wider range of narrative and aesthetic influences across mediums, from novels to films to music to comic books. Writers of popular fiction and genre fiction have greatly expanded the size of the audience interested in what fiction has to say about their world. Yet literary novelists need feel no embarrassment or rejection at selling in lower numbers, insofar as the reader they have in mind is someone who, like them, comes to a book with a certain kind of ambition and a love for original language. More than any other art form, the novel at its best makes enormous demands of its

readers in holding together a set of continuously evolving perceptions about individuals, families, society, politics, economics, gender and sex, language, form, plot, structure, motif, symbol and register. Novels are inherently not a mass product, as, say, movies are. It is to the credit of Indian readers that most writers today consider their efforts validated when they are read well, confidently, perceptively, by a sizeable home audience, and think of arrival on best-seller lists or publication in other English-speaking markets as agreeable bonuses, to be enjoyed if they occur but not regretted if they don’t. People who complain that Indian writing in English is a high-end social club or a clique controlled by a core group of insiders in Delhi are, it seems to me, sometimes guilty themselves for not making the effort to see what a big and roomy place this literature really is. In addition to the older houses that publish fic-

One side of the story of Indian fiction in English in the last decade has been the emergence of a new generation of novelists such as Altaf Tyrewala, Anjum Hasan and Aravind Adiga, and short-story writers such as Jahnavi Barua, Mridula Koshy and Aseem Kaul, even as established presences such as Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Chandra, Allan Sealy, Amit Chaudhuri and Githa Hariharan keep up literary production of high calibre. The other equally important but less wellpublicized side is the emergence, even if in small numbers, of a genuinely satisfying Indian literature in translation. A group of skilled and ambitious translators such as Arunava Sinha, Gita Krishnankutty, Lakshmi Holmstrom, Sukanta and Supriya Chaudhuri, Sampurna Chattarji, Sudarshan Purohit, Aatish Taseer, Nikhil Khandekar and Robert Hueckstedt are expanding and invigorating Indian literary English with the rhythms and

Chandrahas Choudhury, Lounge’s book critic and author of ‘Arzee the Dwarf’, is violently allergic to the word ‘best­seller’

HARIKRISHNA KATRAGADDA/MINT

tion, like Penguin, Rupa, HarperCollins, Picador, Roli, Orient Longman, Zubaan, Katha and Stree, this decade has seen the arrival of three major new players in Random House, Westland Books/Tranquebar and Hachette, all of them fairly hospitable to new writers. There is often good new work to be found in literary journals such as The Little Magazine and Sahitya Akademi’s bimonthly journal Indian Literature. Indeed, to look at the contributors’ notes in the latter journal is to come across a multitude of mostly unfamiliar names working away at English stories, poems or translations from small cities or towns or from the refuge of universities, and almost never standing to gain anything financially for their efforts. There is also excellent work to be found in three online literary journals, or “webzines”: Almost Island, Muse India and the bilingual journal Pratilipi, each with a distinctive literary vision and high editorial standards. Tehelka now rounds off every year with a fiction special issue; Lounge has place for a poem by an Indian poet every weekend; and from the new year, the monthly magazine Caravan will carry fiction and poetry in every issue. If there is a complaint to be made about Indian literature today, it is that bookshops, especially the big chains, don’t stock a wide enough range of books and do not have a book-literate management and staff, and that newspapers and magazines have for the most part not established a reviewing culture equal, in commitment to craft and attention to detail, to the literature to which it constitutes a response.

cadences of other Indian tongues, and greatly extending the range of Indian worlds, cultures and individuals whose inner experience and imagination is now available to the interested English reader. Indeed, one of the great world publishing projects of this decade was solely devoted to Indian literature in translation: the 60 or so volumes of classical Sanskrit literature, ranging across epic, lyric, drama and story, published in English in the US under the series titled The Clay Sanskrit Library. This account of a thriving field may explain why, although my remit for this paper is to cover literature in general and Indian literature in particular, I find myself struggling to keep pace with the energetic object of my interest (especially since so much good work is also coming out in the realm of Indian non-fiction). Yet, in tracking it over this decade, from being a university student in the early years to work as a book reviewer across the middle to the publication of my own first novel this year, I have never considered my youth to be anything less than well-spent. The weekly trip to the Lounge office in Dadar in Mumbai to check on what new books have come in and lay claim to the best ones before anyone else can is never a trudge (even if the atrocious coffee makes leaving fairly easy). How will the next 10 years turn out? Some say that, in our technological revolution, the very idea of a book as we know it may be in crisis, so it is hard then to throw darts at where Indian literature may be headed. Ten years from now, someone else will take the story forward.

Lit up: (top to bottom) A flaming bar at the launch of Eunuch Park by Palash Krishna Mehrotra; Amitav Ghosh; and Aravind Adiga.


A DECADE OF ENGAGING NON­FICTION AND DIVERSITY IN FICTION

BOOKS TV MUSIC COMICS TRAVEL FOOD

12

BOOKS A WELCOME AND MUSIC NEW MATURITY J TRAVEL

13

BY CHANDRAHAS CHOUDHU RY

The progress report for Indian literature in English says it’s a promising, vibrant and curious student

Urban splendour: Mumbai is the backdrop of some of the best books since 2000; (below, from left) authors Amartya Sen, Salman Rushdie and Jhumpa Lahiri. KUNAL PATIL/HINDUSTAN TIMES

VOICES WITH VISION

Poetry, translation, a late work of a master, and Rushdie—our books panel agreed on an inclusive and eclectic list

the

Process A

longlist of 40 odd books, the compilation of our panellist’s individual lists, got us started on the books panel discussion at Taj Lands End, Bandra, Mumbai. Some choices were unanimous: Vikram Chandra’s staggering Bombay crime novel, Sacred Games; the other great Bombay book, Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City; a collection of Arun Kolatkar’s best poetry, Kala Ghoda Poems; and Ramachandra Guha’s acute examination of contemporary India, India After Gandhi. The collective buzz of dinner conversations around us faded as the panellists scrutinized the list and made passionate cases for and against some of the titles. Poet Jeet Thayil’s choice of the collected works of A.K. Ramanujan in translation aroused curiosity because none of the others on the panel had read it. Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss didn’t find favour with three panellists, yet it made it to the list. Uniquely for this list, each vote didn’t matter as much as the case made out for a title. Among the questions thrown up during the conversation: Is Amitav Ghosh a better writer of non-fiction than fiction? Yes, said three panellists. Why is Arundhati Roy an important writer although she is primarily a polemicist? It is her iconic cultural status, said Soumya Bhattacharya. The idea behind this list, as with the other lists in the issue, is to recommend to our readers titles they might have missed out on. The panellists consciously arrived at a selection that is inclusive—there is poetry, translated works, and books by young writers as well as the masters. Sanjukta Sharma

SUBHENDU GHOSH/HINDUSTAN TIMES

work that has equalled this effort. It has ambition, a tremendous structure, and a great set of real characters reminiscent of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

HALF A LIFE by V.S. Naipaul (2001) One objection to Naipaul’s writing has always been that he skips things a novelist should not. It’s almost as if he’s bored of doing the David Copperfield kind of novel, and skips entire swathes of his character’s life. Even then, Half a Life is unputdownable. It brings up timeless subjects as well as Naipaul’s old obsessions; it’s the late work of a master. Naipaul is revered for his craft, he is a writer’s writer, and yet he is not a difficult writer to read.

THE ARGUMENTATIVE INDIAN by Amartya Sen (2006) One of the reasons you read Sen is that he is a gateway to other authors. He has rigour and doesn’t take short cuts. The style is his own; his is a gentle voice that never knocks you out with a point, and yet is persuasive. The book also displays a great depth of engagement with his subjects. The title is an invitation to a new kind of Indianness.

KALA GHODA POEMS by Arun Kolatkar (2004) Kolatkar’s Jejuri has just been issued by the New York Review of Books Classics and he is likely to end up being the face of Indian poetry, whether that’s deserved or not. His works have been translated into several European languages and he’s had an incredible impact. Even if you were to read Kala Ghoda Poems in vacuum, as a book of poetry about a city, it has few parallels.

THE OXFORD INDIA RAMANUJAN by Oxford University Press (2004) Running to 200 odd pages, this volume is the distillation of a life’s work. A.K. Ramanujan received the McCarthy Award when he was in his 30s, and deservedly so. The poem The Black Hen that his wife rescued from his computer has 13 short lines, which allude to death and the fear of creative juices drying up. A scholar can easily write a chapter on the poem—it has all the allusions and mythological references. But that doesn’t take away anything from the pleasure of reading it. All of Ramanujan’s poetry has that beauty.

SHALIMAR THE CLOWN by Salman Rushdie (2005) After a string of indifferent novels, people wondered whether

Panel

is a Mumbai­based poet who edited ‘60 Indian Poets’, an acclaimed anthology of Indian poetry. He is also a literary critic and is currently at work on his first novel.

COURTESY RANDOM HOUSE INDIA

FICTION/POETRY:

Rushdie’s talent had deserted him. He proved them wrong with Shalimar the Clown. In the sections on Kashmir, he went back to what made him a writer in the first place. It has become fashionable to say that the new Rushdie novel is bad, but his not-so-good also deserves to be in a “best of the decade” list.

SACRED GAMES by Vikram Chandra (2006) The breadth of ambition, the high-flown, lyrical English, yet a narrative grounded in the sediments of Hindi—there are many Hindi swear words—make Sacred Games a great book. Despite the bulk (900 pages), it is insanely readable. With some very memorable passages which one can revisit, the book aspires to be the great Bombay novel. It is also a subversion of the concept of the traditional crime novel; and yet it is a serious crime novel.

SOUMYA BHATTACHARYA

is the author of a memoir, ‘You Must Like Cricket?’. His novel, ‘If I Could Tell You’, has just come out. He is editor of the Mumbai edition of the ‘Hindustan Times’.

SANJAY SIPAHIMALANI

read as art history and literature.

THE INHERITANCE OF LOSS by Kiran Desai (2006) The remarkable attention to detail and the language make Desai’s second novel a great work. She explores the tension between the aspirational middle class and some of the big themes about India.

UNACCUSTOMED EARTH by Jhumpa Lahiri (2008) Lahiri’s last book qualifies because of its lyricism and attention to detail. In her understated fashion she looks at the minutiae of life, her fiction reminding you that a coaster or a table mat can be as important as Rushdie’s Saleem Sinai. Here she has perfected the craft of writing about the American Bengali milieu; you almost admire her for her stubborn refusal to leave home.

RED

BETWEEN THE ASSASSI­ NATIONS

by Allan Sealy (2006) Sealy is an underrated writer even though his corpus is amazing—from Trotter-Nama to Everest Hotel, he has written many kinds of books. Written in an unabashedly literary style, Red is a particularly clever and brave work that can be

by Aravind Adiga (2008) In his second published book, which was written before the Booker-winning The White Tiger, Adiga doesn’t take short cuts. The short stories here have persuasive characters and a reader needs to work harder to get to the heart of the

the

JEET THAYIL

AFP

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found: Suketu Mehta, Penguin, 600 pages, Rs399.

is an executive creative director with Bates 141 Mumbai, and has reviewed books for the ‘Hindustan Times’, ‘The Indian Express’ and ‘Biblio’.

CHANDRAHAS CHOUDHURY

has been the ‘Lounge’ book critic ever since the magazine’s first issue. His first novel, ‘Arzee the Dwarf’, came out this year to rave reviews.

book. There is great attention to detail and there is a poise about the writing. There is also a corrosive rage and an unbuttoned-ness that shows Adiga’s comfort level with nasty characters. That is a useful quality to have when writing fiction about India.

SIX ACRES AND A THIRD by Fakir Mohan Senapati (in translation, 2005) The original in Oriya was written about 100 years ago and then revived in this decade. The work should be read for its beauty of technique. Few novels speak in the first person plural and by doing this, the book instantly aligns with the village that it is set in. While Senapati has an eye on colonial rule, his work is not just an indictment of colonialism. It also looks inward at some of the things that bind the people of the village. His style is an offshoot of the Victorian novel.

NON­FICTION: BIHAR IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER by Vijay Nambisan (2000) Nambisan takes a subject like Bihar and manages to avoid all the cliches—of both technique and content. The book is about him

and his wife living in a Bihar village, and in that tiny canvas, he brings in big things such as crime and politics. There are beautiful line drawings throughout that he has done himself, and the language is that of a poet.

THE IMAM AND THE INDIAN by Amitav Ghosh (2002) A great book because of its breadth and depth, The Imam displays a kind of critical renaissance thinking on subjects as diverse as the Baburnama, the poet Aga Shahid Ali, and books from Ghosh’s grandfather’s shelf. He is a better non-fiction writer.

STEP ACROSS THIS LINE by Salman Rushdie (2003) An inquisitive mind takes on the great books of the world. In this collection of essays, Rushdie also talks about subjects such as fundamentalism and a U2 concert. The work provides an insight into one of the great public intellectuals of our time. And, through this book, you can also get close to Rushdie—for the first time he writes about his personal reaction to the fatwa.

AN END TO SUFFERING: THE BUDDHA IN THE WORLD by Pankaj Mishra (2004) Commonly known as “the Buddha book”, it spans genres—memoir, travel writing, history and philosophy. It also has some very original thinking. Mishra manages to connect disparate subjects and makes the connections convincing. It is sad that he doesn’t have the cachet in India that he deserves.

MAXIMUM CITY: BOMBAY LOST AND FOUND by Suketu Mehta (2004) For a panoramic look at Mumbai, it’s hard to think of any previous

INDIA AFTER GANDHI by Ramachandra Guha (2007) It’s not easy to capture 60 years of history in a single volume. Unlike many books in this genre, this doesn’t have an ideological slant; everyone can find points of agreement with Guha. It’s a great one-stop history text about India the way it is today. Guha is also a polished stylist and the reader doesn’t get bogged down by details here.

Half a Life: V.S. Naipaul, Picador, 226 pages, Rs225.

MOHANDAS: A TRUE STORY OF A MAN, HIS PEOPLE AND AN EMPIRE by Rajmohan Gandhi (2007) Biographies of the most famous Indian abound, but this one is epic in its scope. Written by the Mahatma’s grandson in a fluid, beautiful style, this volume is a resource on Gandhi for the young, and one of the most thrilling stories on Indian politics.

Sacred Games: Vikram Chandra, Penguin, 968 pages, Rs495.

THE UGLINESS OF THE INDIAN MALE AND OTHER PROPOSITIONS by Mukul Kesavan (2008) Kesavan is the kind of essayist who can string together a series of striking thoughts in sparking prose, which is cerebral yet easy to read. He visits many territories in this book and it’s a joy to read.

CURFEWED NIGHT by Basharat Peer (2008) Peer has humanized the Kashmir conflict in this very consciously and beautifully crafted memoir. Although he is an insider, he does not let his emotions come in the way of his style. This is the first real look from the inside at the tangled situation in Kashmir and it is difficult to read it without feeling the state’s —and Peer’s—pain.

Unaccustomed Earth: Jhumpa Lahiri, Random House, 352 pages, Rs450.

ust as it has taken Indian democracy the best part of 60 years to activate the social and political energies of a majority of its citizens, including many traditionally disenfranchised groups, similarly, it might be said, it has taken Indian literature in English (which is a few decades older than Indian democracy) a very long time to achieve a density and diversity equal to the social and linguistic energies available to it. A great deal more needs to be done before this literature, which for the most part speaks from, and for, metropolitan India, can be said to be truly representative in the social sense and truly independent in the linguistic, aesthetic and philosophical sense. Yet, looking back at the last decade, one might say that the progress report is mostly encouraging. It is encouraging for the simple reason that a literature comes of age not when it has produced three or four great novels, but when it reliably throws up a number of very good ones regularly, and when a high percentage of what comes through meets a certain quality standard. Further, for a literature to be considered mature, the place of readers cannot be underestimated. Any vibrant literature requires a sizeable number of discerning readers who not only follow the work of writers but are in some sense in advance of them, and whose impatience with sterile forms and stories creates an atmosphere of ferment and ambition where distinctive personal visions and bold new energies can exercise their spirits. Again, from the publishing side, a literature appears mature when it is not just one or two big presses that control what is published, distributed and consumed, but when a wide array of publishing agendas and interests compete for the attention of readers, and a large pool of talent is available to make good books better through the processes of good editing, production, design, and astute publicity. If we take all these as indicative guidelines, Indian literature in English has certainly become a much bigger, brighter place in the last 10 years: the first decade in which it has truly been part of a globalized world. The typical first-time novelist or short-story writer in English today is much less self-conscious in his or her approach to the language than, say, two decades ago, and much more sure of his or her audience. In a multicultural and globalizing world, in the age of the Internet and with easy access to a hospitable market, Indian writers are also likely to be from more diverse backgrounds than previously, and to have a far wider range of narrative and aesthetic influences across mediums, from novels to films to music to comic books. Writers of popular fiction and genre fiction have greatly expanded the size of the audience interested in what fiction has to say about their world. Yet literary novelists need feel no embarrassment or rejection at selling in lower numbers, insofar as the reader they have in mind is someone who, like them, comes to a book with a certain kind of ambition and a love for original language. More than any other art form, the novel at its best makes enormous demands of its

readers in holding together a set of continuously evolving perceptions about individuals, families, society, politics, economics, gender and sex, language, form, plot, structure, motif, symbol and register. Novels are inherently not a mass product, as, say, movies are. It is to the credit of Indian readers that most writers today consider their efforts validated when they are read well, confidently, perceptively, by a sizeable home audience, and think of arrival on best-seller lists or publication in other English-speaking markets as agreeable bonuses, to be enjoyed if they occur but not regretted if they don’t. People who complain that Indian writing in English is a high-end social club or a clique controlled by a core group of insiders in Delhi are, it seems to me, sometimes guilty themselves for not making the effort to see what a big and roomy place this literature really is. In addition to the older houses that publish fic-

One side of the story of Indian fiction in English in the last decade has been the emergence of a new generation of novelists such as Altaf Tyrewala, Anjum Hasan and Aravind Adiga, and short-story writers such as Jahnavi Barua, Mridula Koshy and Aseem Kaul, even as established presences such as Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Chandra, Allan Sealy, Amit Chaudhuri and Githa Hariharan keep up literary production of high calibre. The other equally important but less wellpublicized side is the emergence, even if in small numbers, of a genuinely satisfying Indian literature in translation. A group of skilled and ambitious translators such as Arunava Sinha, Gita Krishnankutty, Lakshmi Holmstrom, Sukanta and Supriya Chaudhuri, Sampurna Chattarji, Sudarshan Purohit, Aatish Taseer, Nikhil Khandekar and Robert Hueckstedt are expanding and invigorating Indian literary English with the rhythms and

Chandrahas Choudhury, Lounge’s book critic and author of ‘Arzee the Dwarf’, is violently allergic to the word ‘best­seller’

HARIKRISHNA KATRAGADDA/MINT

tion, like Penguin, Rupa, HarperCollins, Picador, Roli, Orient Longman, Zubaan, Katha and Stree, this decade has seen the arrival of three major new players in Random House, Westland Books/Tranquebar and Hachette, all of them fairly hospitable to new writers. There is often good new work to be found in literary journals such as The Little Magazine and Sahitya Akademi’s bimonthly journal Indian Literature. Indeed, to look at the contributors’ notes in the latter journal is to come across a multitude of mostly unfamiliar names working away at English stories, poems or translations from small cities or towns or from the refuge of universities, and almost never standing to gain anything financially for their efforts. There is also excellent work to be found in three online literary journals, or “webzines”: Almost Island, Muse India and the bilingual journal Pratilipi, each with a distinctive literary vision and high editorial standards. Tehelka now rounds off every year with a fiction special issue; Lounge has place for a poem by an Indian poet every weekend; and from the new year, the monthly magazine Caravan will carry fiction and poetry in every issue. If there is a complaint to be made about Indian literature today, it is that bookshops, especially the big chains, don’t stock a wide enough range of books and do not have a book-literate management and staff, and that newspapers and magazines have for the most part not established a reviewing culture equal, in commitment to craft and attention to detail, to the literature to which it constitutes a response.

cadences of other Indian tongues, and greatly extending the range of Indian worlds, cultures and individuals whose inner experience and imagination is now available to the interested English reader. Indeed, one of the great world publishing projects of this decade was solely devoted to Indian literature in translation: the 60 or so volumes of classical Sanskrit literature, ranging across epic, lyric, drama and story, published in English in the US under the series titled The Clay Sanskrit Library. This account of a thriving field may explain why, although my remit for this paper is to cover literature in general and Indian literature in particular, I find myself struggling to keep pace with the energetic object of my interest (especially since so much good work is also coming out in the realm of Indian non-fiction). Yet, in tracking it over this decade, from being a university student in the early years to work as a book reviewer across the middle to the publication of my own first novel this year, I have never considered my youth to be anything less than well-spent. The weekly trip to the Lounge office in Dadar in Mumbai to check on what new books have come in and lay claim to the best ones before anyone else can is never a trudge (even if the atrocious coffee makes leaving fairly easy). How will the next 10 years turn out? Some say that, in our technological revolution, the very idea of a book as we know it may be in crisis, so it is hard then to throw darts at where Indian literature may be headed. Ten years from now, someone else will take the story forward.

Lit up: (top to bottom) A flaming bar at the launch of Eunuch Park by Palash Krishna Mehrotra; Amitav Ghosh; and Aravind Adiga.


TECH STYLE GAMING GOOD, BAD Process OR JUST ADS ART PLAIN BOOKS TVUGLY? MUSIC COMICS List TRAVEL FOOD A DECADE OF EVOLUTION, CHANGE AND REINVENTION

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n a weekday evening at Taj Lands End in suburban Mumbai, model Tapur Chatterji, designers Wendell Rodricks and Nachiket Barve, and retail expert Darshan Mehta were gathered over a snack that is the antithesis of food consumed in fashion circles—pepperoni pizza. The quartet were together to debate the 10 trends that changed Indian fashion in the past decade, for better or worse. Before deciding on the trends, our panel made one thing clear: that in a country as diverse as India, one trend can never be representative of the whole. As Mehta put it, “You’ll never find an aggregate truth in India.” Mehta explained that compared with the rest of the world, India was still in stage 1 of fashion consumption. “We are a new-money economy and new money demonstrates itself in a particular way. Ten years ago we mindlessly aped, today there is more assimilation and individuality,” he said, adding, “While we want to be individualistic, we still use movies and movie stars to for interpretation and inspiration. In most of Europe, fashion trends are born out of inspiration from music or art, not movie theatres and footballers’ wives, as it is in the US.” In many European countries, most people have an innate sense of style; “They follow trained people who know design, while Indians and Americans follow people who wear it,” said Chatterji. The conversation moved from the need for media to be well educated in fashion to the dying appreciation for Indian handicrafts and handloom, which all four felt very strongly about. “It is my sincere hope as an Indian designer that we retain our Indian-ness in one part of our garments every day. I would hate to see this country become like China or Japan where they reserve their ethnicity for only their wedding. If the desire and aspiration to own a paithani or jamewar disappears, it will kill the small weaving industries and handworkers which are the pride of our country,” Rodricks said. They agreed the reinvention of the sari was a trend, but one Indian fashion could do without. Chatterjee said she learnt to appreciate craft ever since she was a child, and remembers the saris her grandmother passed on to her mother were beautifully woven pieces with gold zari. Mehta pointed out how those limited, artisanal saris were considered luxury at that time. “You had to book a patola and wait one and a half years till it was made,” he said. “The heirloom saris are dead. Tapur’s grandmother could pass them on because you could keep them intact. Now saris fall apart by the end of the evening,” said Barve. All four of our panel members work with and study new trends, innovations and developments in fashion. However, each of them believes that style is about finding and following your own voice, adapting trends that are relevant to India, and preserving its textile and handicraft heritage.

We lowered our waistlines, Bollywoodized our weddings, and sent Indian trousers abroad

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REINVENTION OF THE SARI

DEMOCRATIZATION OF FASHION

Trends don’t rule as severely as before, we are free to choose our own styles. “I have noticed that there are no strict rules about styles and trends any more. Everything is accepted and individualistic,” says Tapur Chatterji. Whether you wear your skirt at thigh-length or floor length, or your denims skin-tight or billowing, you can still be stylish. Fashion also became accessible to everyone, and has percolated quickly to reach all levels of society.

CELEBRITY FIXATION Though we may not be aping celebrity fashion mindlessly, Bollywood is where the masses get their fashion instruction and inspiration from. But Wendell Rodricks points out that even movie star clout can’t impose a trend if the masses cannot relate to it.

MIGRATION OF THE WAIST We wear our trousers, jeans and skirts lower than we used to 10 years ago. The panellists all agree that it is not a bad trend for people with a heavier midriff. The low-waist is an example of something starting out as a trend and ending up being the norm. “If any man wears his trousers on his waist today, it looks outdated,” says Rodricks. “Thankfully,” says Chatterji, “Those extremely low-cut jeans where the underwear sticks out are not seen any more.”

THE LUST FOR LOGOS

NACHIKET BARVE/ LAKME FASHION WEEK

The big trends: (left) Variations of the Indian salwar were seen all over Indian and international ramps; this was the decade of the dress.

We seem to need the security that others will recognize we have spent so much on clothing or accessories. Darshan Mehta explains that all-new money economies see designer and luxury logos as “the quickest way to change their standing in society”.

THE BOLLYWOODIZATION OF WEDDINGS It’s costume vs style as we swap our ethnic garments in favour of Karan Johar and Yash Chopra’s ideal of the shaadi ensemble, for a glorified, 70mm version of the Great Indian Wedding. Brides are forfeiting the individuality of their community’s

Parizaad Khan TARUN TAHILIANI/ LAKME FASHION WEEK

the

Panel

WENDELL RODRICKS

is one of the country’s best­known design names. He lives in a remote village in Goa, but is always in the thick of the fashion industry and has been designing his unique brand of fluid outfits for the past 20 years.

traditional attire for the ubiquitous zardozi lehenga. “A wedding has become role playing. It’s costume, not style,” says Nachiket Barve.

DARSHAN MEHTA

was CEO of VF Arvind Brands Ltd, which introduced Tommy Hilfiger, Lee and Nautica to India. He is now president and CEO of Reliance Brands Ltd, which will launch iconic denim brand Diesel in the country in 2010.

TAPUR CHATTERJI

has been modelling since 2001, and has walked the ramp for Indian and international designers. The commercial arts student has won a national award for a poster on adult education and also designs jewellery for friends.

NACHIKET BARVE

launched his eponymous label in 2007 after stints with designers Michael Kors, Abu­Sandeep and Neeru Kumar. He won the British Council’s Young Fashion Entrepreneur Award 2009.

The beauty of the kanjeevaram, the jamewar and the paithani have made way for the uniformity of sequins and borders on georgette or net, a development that made the panel uneasy. According to Rodricks, silks were bought as investment heirloom pieces; these days saris are no longer woven even, they are just embellished lengths of chiffon.

SLIM PICKINGS We want our clothes to reflect our newly discovered healthy lifestyle and toned figures. Rodricks points out that Indians have taken care of themselves this decade and now want the garment cut closer to show their shape. Barve also points out that this issue is quite a dichotomy. “On the one hand we are fitter, but on the other, neurotic and miserable as well about fitting into a size zero. People weren’t that neurotic about their bodies 10 years ago,” he says.

BEAUTY IS SKIN DEEP Using chemicals and surgical procedures to alter the body has become an all-pervasive phenomenon. Rodricks and Barve also spoke about beauty being only skin deep, and the widespread acceptance of chemicals and surgery to alter our appearance.

EXPORTING THE GREAT INDIAN TROUSER The salwar, in its various shapes and forms, has evolved and been imported by international designers. The Indian pant went international, and terms such as sheer churidars, dhoti pants and jodhpurs were added to fashion lexicons all over the world. “It’s not a salwar any more, it’s become a trouser and is worn as outerwear,” says Rodricks.

DRESSING UP The dress was never as important as it is now. We wear dresses as kurtas, as minis, with leggings, and in varying lengths. The last trend was unanimous on everyone’s list. “The dress was never that important in the last decade, it became important in this one, even with women who didn’t wear dresses,” says Rodricks.


A DECADE OF MAGIC, MADNESS AND STRONG MESSAGES

ADS the Process BOOKS MUSIC TRAVEL C

ould you show us to our stable, please?” asked Piyush Pandey as the rest of the party broke into raucous laughter. It was a reunion of sorts as our panel shook hands and spoke animatedly at Tote on the Turf, near the stables of the Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Mumbai. Our hopes of a spirited afternoon, punctuated with heavy betting and edible missiles being thrown, melted away as our panel of advertising and marketing professionals cordially exchanged notes on their 10 best advertisement films of the decade. Warming up over an assortment of cappuccinos, green tea and vodka tonic, we had the first tally: five out of 10 on each list matched. They unanimously voted for the Orange-Hutch-Vodafone campaign. Not only was the brand applauded for changing a category known to be fraught with “technical gobbledygook” but also for maintaining a consistent tone across changes in identity. Fevicol came a close second, and the award-winning palace advertisement for Happydent chewing gum was next. “While people argue that the concept of teeth emitting light has been used before, this commercial goes way beyond that. So much so, that you forget the past. That to me is the magic of execution,” said Pandey. They also picked Center Shock chewing gum’s “barber” advertisement for its absurdity. The discussion progressed smoothly till they came up against two Times of India campaigns—the “Pakya” commercial, where an old man celebrates the triumph of his grandson, and the “pushing files” commercial, which was a comment on corruption. While Lloyd Mathias voted in favour of “Pakya”, claiming it touched an emotional chord, Santosh Desai though it was too contrived. The group didn’t consider the latest award-winning Naka Muka commercial, as they thought the concept had been done before. Pandey thought it had done beautifully at award shows because it had the whole “Slumdog Millionaire” appeal. Coca-Cola’s Thanda matlab... and Paanch! advertisements were picked together as they marked a turning point for Coke. “Nothing got us scampering at Pepsi like that campaign,” said Mathias, then executive vice-president of marketing at PepsiCo, South Asia. Kiran Khalap said, “Till then, Coke’s entire language was too foreign. With this campaign, they were speaking ‘Indianese’ for the first time.” The group agreed on the launch campaign for Bingo, for its sheer absurdity and recall; the “dying man” commercial for M-Seal’s repair putty, for its brilliant comic timing; and Asian Paints’ Har ghar kuch kehta hai, for spawning a number of clones in the category. For the last spot on the list, Desai and Khalap picked the Balbir Pasha ko AIDS hoga kya? campaign, Mathias selected Maruti 800’s Petrol khatam hi nahin hota, while Pandey chose the SBI Life campaign. The jury, finally agreeing on the “Balbir Pasha” campaign, signed off on a high note, but with a disclaimer: “E&OE” (Errors & Omissions Expected).

ART TV COMICS FOOD Ads up: (clockwise from above) Vodafone’s Zoozoos; Aamir Khan in Coca­Cola’s Paanch! campaign; ads for Happydent; M­Seal; Bingo and Center Shock.

BREAK INTO A SMILE

From Vodafone’s Zoozoos, Center Shock’s afro to M­Seal’s tragicomic story of a will gone wrong and Bingo’s sheer absurdity, our panel picks the advertisements that defined an era FEVICOL

the

List

In a category of fantastically made demo advertisements with images of, among others, two trucks stuck together and a man stuck to the ceiling, the Fevicol advertisements built the concept of adhesives to represent strong human bonds and relationships.

ORANGE–HUTCH–VODAFONE CAMPAIGN

CENTER SHOCK CHEWING GUM—BARBER

Right from their network advertisements about the little boy and his pug to the hugely popular Zoozoos, the campaign transformed the category with its simplicity and consistency. “I don’t know any other brand in advertising which has managed to maintain its brand voice through four name changes and people haven’t abandoned the brand,” says Kiran Khalap.

A man enters a local barber’s shop and asks for an Afro hairdo, only to have a Center Shock chewing gum stuffed into his mouth. “It brings that whole brand experience alive,” says Lloyd Mathias. “That burst of flavour…it’s a great visual depiction.”

HAPPYDENT—PALACE Shot by film-maker Ram Madhvani, the advertisement shows a smile can literally light up a room. The panel felt the ad demonstrated that the idea-execution divide was a tenuous one. “The number of layers seamlessly stitched together to produce a spectacle of a scale that is truly of a different league... I would say it’s a triumph of the craft,” says Santosh Desai.

Gouri Shah

TIMES OF INDIA—PUSHING FILES A comment on corruption in society, the advertisement traces the path of a file in a government office. Set against the commentary of a hockey match, the file reaches its destination, and the bribe is in the official’s pocket even as a goal is scored in the match. “At a subliminal level, you don’t associate India winning with hockey, therefore this file passing is not about winning, but about eventually losing to corruption,” says Khalap.

COCA­COLA—THANDA MATLAB… AND PAANCH! The advertisements show actor Aamir Khan in various roles, including one as a safari-suited, paan-chewing official who pulls up a village storekeeper for charging more than Rs5 for a small bottle of Coke. The campaign marked a huge change in Coke’s fortunes in India. For the first time, the brand had shed its foreign tone and was speaking to the masses.

M­SEAL—DYING MAN In the original script Piyush Pandey wrote for the brand of putty, the drop of water falls on the old man’s signature. But he changed it after his nephew Abhijit Awasthi, executive creative director, O&M, South Asia said, “He’s adding the zeros to that number, drop it on the one.” Khalap says the ad is memorable as “it’s an incredibly original thought, beautifully executed along with brilliant delivery of the punch line”.

BINGO The launch campaign was extremely funny and has seemingly idiotic advertisements such as the Glad Bangles one, in which a Russian model exalts the benefits of crystal bangles,

the

Panel

PIYUSH PANDEY

is executive chairman and creative director for Ogilvy and Mather, South Asia. He worked as a tea taster before joining Ogilvy in 1982. He is passionate about cricket and has played in the Ranji Trophy.

20

SANTOSH DESAI

is managing director and chief execu­ tive for Future Brands. Desai is inter­ ested in studying the relationship between culture and brands. His first book on contemporary India is due to be published early next year.

KIRAN KHALAP

is the co­founder of Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. Starting out as a schoolteacher, Khalap moved to advertising in 1983, working with agencies before setting up India’s first brand consultancy.

LLOYD MATHIAS

is president and chief marketing officer of Tata Teleservices Ltd. Prior to this, he was a senior director for Motorola’s South­West Asia region and was execu­ tive vice­president of marketing at Pep­ siCo South Asia.

which have nothing to do with the product, Mad Angles. “The sense of humour is such that it’s not universal, and yet it strikes an absurd chord. Everyone will have their own favourite Bingo ad,” says Mathias.

ASIAN PAINTS—HAR GHAR KUCH KEHTA HAI The commercial influenced not just advertising within the paints category, but other categories as well. The most recent advertisement for Tata Walky phones has the same imagery. “Unlike most ads which had a structure—a beginning, middle and end—this had none. Yet, you couldn’t keep your eyes off it,” says Khalap.

BALBIR PASHA KO AIDS HOGA KYA? The advertisements showed people talking about a fictional character, Balbir Pasha, and his chances of contracting AIDS. The advertisements were meant to correct misconceptions about the disease and get people talking about it more openly, which it did. “It was an advertising solution, rather than an execution,” said Desai. “In terms of the depth, newness and scale of problem it was trying to address, I think it had a strong impact.”


THE SLEUTH’S NEW SUIT

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BY ZAC O’ YEAH

DETECTIVES FOR A

NEW MILLENNIUM From Botswana’s colourful neighbourhoods to Bangkok’s seedy underbelly—the 2000s took thrillers to greater, more eclectic heights

DU BOISBERRANGER JEAN/AFP

T

he 2000s are over, we’ll be living in the 2010s in a few days, and it’s time to tidy the crime bookshelf, see what’s worth keeping and weed out the rest to make room for thrilling new titles. For me, during this first decade of the millennium, the most fascinating discovery was British expat lawyer-turned-writer John Burdett, who sets his stuff exclusively in Thailand. Three novels into a brilliant quartet, with possibly one motion picture based on Bangkok 8 soon to be released, Burdett is the sign of our times. You may have noticed the lurid covers in your neighbourhood bookshop and studiously avoided them, thinking your mother-in-law will be scandalized the next time she descends. Or maybe you missed Burdett as you browsed for some last signs of life from the rigor mortis-afflicted Cold War genre. Luckily, I’m only an occasional prude—because the cosmos depicted by Burdett doesn’t leave out Bangkok’s seamier sides. Seaminess is, in fact, an integral component as police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep’s mum runs a brothel, ironically in partnership with his boss, Colonel Vikorn, aimed at elderly johns—Viagra is served as a cocktail snack. But that’s just the starting point of this intricate series which offers a unique glimpse of Bangkok, by an extremely knowledgeable author who is said to have chatted up hundreds of Soi Cowboy bar girls during his research. Also, the adventures of Jitpleecheep take us to the northern rural province from where impoverished girls migrate to Bangkok in order to support their rice-farming families (Bangkok Haunts) and to Thailand’s deep south where militancy brews (Bangkok Tattoo has an interesting 9/11 theme). The novels collectively open up the inner life of Jitpleecheep, a devout Buddhist, and the mechanism of crime and punishment gets interpreted through karma-conditioned eyes, where each action has its corresponding fallout. People aren’t just reincarnated; their spirits have sex in the morgue as they wait for their next lives to begin. Even the bars have, the anthropologically-inclined will notice, small Buddhist shrines. Burdett, by the way, isn’t the only player in Bangkok, for recently he’s been joined by Timothy Hallinan, who sets thrillers in that same sordid underworld. In A Nail Through the Heart, Hallinan introduced seedy travel writer Poke Rafferty, whose travelogues bring him to places that are a little too dangerous, and in the sequel, The Fourth Watcher, Rafferty decides to write a travel guide for how to do illegal stuff in Thailand. Need I tell you that this turns out to be a bad, bad idea? Understandably, Thais may feel there’s too much harping on their sex industry (which is illegal anyway and probably doesn’t exist officially). But the

Zac O’Yeah writes thrillers that scare even him. The Bangalore­based writer’s next book, ‘Once Upon A Time In Scandinavistan’, is out in 2010

MADHU KAPPARATH/MINT

AMANDA EDWARDS/GETTY IMAGES

Case files: (clockwise from top) Bangkok, Burdett’s set­ ting; Omair Ahmad; Natsuo Kirino; and Alexander McCall Smith.

fact remains that Burdett’s Bangkok suite is now translated into more than 20 languages around the world and hundreds of thousands of readers are, like me, excitedly awaiting the global release of the ultimate Jitpleecheep sequel, The Godfather of Kathmandu, on January 12. If the beginning of the millennium was, thanks to writers like Burdett, the most exciting era since noir was invented, I divine that the 2010s will get even better. Gone are the days when bookshops had a meagre cobweb-encrusted thriller shelf accommodating the usual suspects: Cold War and World War II suspense; detective novels set in a museum milieu of old English manors and moors; and their harder-boiled US cousins. Let’s face it, American cities get repetitive after a hundred urban murder plots in which the mandatory spot of exotic colour is the occasional lead to Chinatown.

Today the world has expanded and crime fiction has become truly international in setting and flavour. You need just to browse and out tumbles…well, a map of Swedish crime, drawn up by the likes of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson. The other day at Gangaram’s Book Bureau on Bangalore’s MG Road, I found yet another exciting Swede, Tim Davys, whose Amberville is set in a wild and vile world of stuffed toy animals! And while we were busy gazing Westwards, Japan built up a rich crime tradition with both indigenous and foreign writers, with or without Yakuza.

No, Yakuza is not a bathtub which bubbles, but the mafia that has ruled Japan’s underworld for centuries. Among the best Japanese crime novels there’s Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by the cool as sushi Haruki Murakami—2007 saw a vintage-edition reissue of this great postmodern detective story. The biggest new thing appears to be Natsuo Kirino, a female writer of nihilistic, psychological, grittily realistic noir: The award-winning Out, about a woman who strangles her husband and her toil with getting rid of the body parts, was followed by Grotesque about murdered prostitutes and which I, by the way, also discovered that day at the venerable and well-stocked Gangaram’s. Also worth checking out are Mo Hayder— who for some time worked as a club hostess in Japan—and her novel Tokyo, David Peace’s Tokyo Year Zero (compared to James Ellroy by reviewer Siddhartha Deb in The Telegraph) and Martin Cruz Smith’s Tokyo Station, which unfolds during the days leading up to the Pearl Harbour air strike.

Let’s move on to Africa. Honestly, who would have thought in the 1990s that one of the world’s best-selling detective serials would be set in Botswana? The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency began operating in 1998 and took off like a rocket in the 2000s, with a new book every year, and 2010 will properly start for Indian crime fiction fans when Alexander McCall Smith hobnobs with us at the Jaipur Literary Festival, come end-January. A new instalment, The Double Comfort Safari Club, will be in every criminally-minded bookshop on April 20. This global flavouring has demanded some adjustments. The adaptable among old-school writers, for instance, the master of the Cold War thriller, John le Carré, did take the cue and move to fresher pastures, such as Africa in The Constant Gardener—a book he rates as one of his best. And he’s right. Then there are the local crime writers currying favour with readers. The great sensation of 2008 was The Blaft Anthology of Tamil Pulp Fiction, steaming hot with Chennai crooks. And notable in 2009 was Delhi Noir, an anthology edited by Hirsh Sawhney (published both in India and the US). In this context, I must praise India’s answer to McCall Smith, namely Tarquin Hall, whose Most Private Investigator Vish Puri series debuted during the year. A second instalment, The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, will hit shops by June. Taken together, all this means serious diversification. A more eclectic taste among readers and a corresponding spirit of adventure among publishers and shopkeepers has created a genuine globalization of the crime novel, and our new fictional heroes are breathing in the smog of urban India, Thailand, Japan and Africa.

Lost in Nepal: Burdett takes his detective to Kathmandu, where a lama is seeking nirvana.

On the job: A prolific writer, McCall Smith’s canvas is Africa.


A DECADE OF MAGIC, MADNESS AND STRONG MESSAGES

ADS the Process BOOKS MUSIC TRAVEL C

ould you show us to our stable, please?” asked Piyush Pandey as the rest of the party broke into raucous laughter. It was a reunion of sorts as our panel shook hands and spoke animatedly at Tote on the Turf, near the stables of the Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Mumbai. Our hopes of a spirited afternoon, punctuated with heavy betting and edible missiles being thrown, melted away as our panel of advertising and marketing professionals cordially exchanged notes on their 10 best advertisement films of the decade. Warming up over an assortment of cappuccinos, green tea and vodka tonic, we had the first tally: five out of 10 on each list matched. They unanimously voted for the Orange-Hutch-Vodafone campaign. Not only was the brand applauded for changing a category known to be fraught with “technical gobbledygook” but also for maintaining a consistent tone across changes in identity. Fevicol came a close second, and the award-winning palace advertisement for Happydent chewing gum was next. “While people argue that the concept of teeth emitting light has been used before, this commercial goes way beyond that. So much so, that you forget the past. That to me is the magic of execution,” said Pandey. They also picked Center Shock chewing gum’s “barber” advertisement for its absurdity. The discussion progressed smoothly till they came up against two Times of India campaigns—the “Pakya” commercial, where an old man celebrates the triumph of his grandson, and the “pushing files” commercial, which was a comment on corruption. While Lloyd Mathias voted in favour of “Pakya”, claiming it touched an emotional chord, Santosh Desai though it was too contrived. The group didn’t consider the latest award-winning Naka Muka commercial, as they thought the concept had been done before. Pandey thought it had done beautifully at award shows because it had the whole “Slumdog Millionaire” appeal. Coca-Cola’s Thanda matlab... and Paanch! advertisements were picked together as they marked a turning point for Coke. “Nothing got us scampering at Pepsi like that campaign,” said Mathias, then executive vice-president of marketing at PepsiCo, South Asia. Kiran Khalap said, “Till then, Coke’s entire language was too foreign. With this campaign, they were speaking ‘Indianese’ for the first time.” The group agreed on the launch campaign for Bingo, for its sheer absurdity and recall; the “dying man” commercial for M-Seal’s repair putty, for its brilliant comic timing; and Asian Paints’ Har ghar kuch kehta hai, for spawning a number of clones in the category. For the last spot on the list, Desai and Khalap picked the Balbir Pasha ko AIDS hoga kya? campaign, Mathias selected Maruti 800’s Petrol khatam hi nahin hota, while Pandey chose the SBI Life campaign. The jury, finally agreeing on the “Balbir Pasha” campaign, signed off on a high note, but with a disclaimer: “E&OE” (Errors & Omissions Expected).

ART TV COMICS FOOD Ads up: (clockwise from above) Vodafone’s Zoozoos; Aamir Khan in Coca­Cola’s Paanch! campaign; ads for Happydent; M­Seal; Bingo and Center Shock.

BREAK INTO A SMILE

From Vodafone’s Zoozoos, Center Shock’s afro to M­Seal’s tragicomic story of a will gone wrong and Bingo’s sheer absurdity, our panel picks the advertisements that defined an era FEVICOL

the

List

In a category of fantastically made demo advertisements with images of, among others, two trucks stuck together and a man stuck to the ceiling, the Fevicol advertisements built the concept of adhesives to represent strong human bonds and relationships.

ORANGE–HUTCH–VODAFONE CAMPAIGN

CENTER SHOCK CHEWING GUM—BARBER

Right from their network advertisements about the little boy and his pug to the hugely popular Zoozoos, the campaign transformed the category with its simplicity and consistency. “I don’t know any other brand in advertising which has managed to maintain its brand voice through four name changes and people haven’t abandoned the brand,” says Kiran Khalap.

A man enters a local barber’s shop and asks for an Afro hairdo, only to have a Center Shock chewing gum stuffed into his mouth. “It brings that whole brand experience alive,” says Lloyd Mathias. “That burst of flavour…it’s a great visual depiction.”

HAPPYDENT—PALACE Shot by film-maker Ram Madhvani, the advertisement shows a smile can literally light up a room. The panel felt the ad demonstrated that the idea-execution divide was a tenuous one. “The number of layers seamlessly stitched together to produce a spectacle of a scale that is truly of a different league... I would say it’s a triumph of the craft,” says Santosh Desai.

Gouri Shah

TIMES OF INDIA—PUSHING FILES A comment on corruption in society, the advertisement traces the path of a file in a government office. Set against the commentary of a hockey match, the file reaches its destination, and the bribe is in the official’s pocket even as a goal is scored in the match. “At a subliminal level, you don’t associate India winning with hockey, therefore this file passing is not about winning, but about eventually losing to corruption,” says Khalap.

COCA­COLA—THANDA MATLAB… AND PAANCH! The advertisements show actor Aamir Khan in various roles, including one as a safari-suited, paan-chewing official who pulls up a village storekeeper for charging more than Rs5 for a small bottle of Coke. The campaign marked a huge change in Coke’s fortunes in India. For the first time, the brand had shed its foreign tone and was speaking to the masses.

M­SEAL—DYING MAN In the original script Piyush Pandey wrote for the brand of putty, the drop of water falls on the old man’s signature. But he changed it after his nephew Abhijit Awasthi, executive creative director, O&M, South Asia said, “He’s adding the zeros to that number, drop it on the one.” Khalap says the ad is memorable as “it’s an incredibly original thought, beautifully executed along with brilliant delivery of the punch line”.

BINGO The launch campaign was extremely funny and has seemingly idiotic advertisements such as the Glad Bangles one, in which a Russian model exalts the benefits of crystal bangles,

the

Panel

PIYUSH PANDEY

is executive chairman and creative director for Ogilvy and Mather, South Asia. He worked as a tea taster before joining Ogilvy in 1982. He is passionate about cricket and has played in the Ranji Trophy.

20

SANTOSH DESAI

is managing director and chief execu­ tive for Future Brands. Desai is inter­ ested in studying the relationship between culture and brands. His first book on contemporary India is due to be published early next year.

KIRAN KHALAP

is the co­founder of Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. Starting out as a schoolteacher, Khalap moved to advertising in 1983, working with agencies before setting up India’s first brand consultancy.

LLOYD MATHIAS

is president and chief marketing officer of Tata Teleservices Ltd. Prior to this, he was a senior director for Motorola’s South­West Asia region and was execu­ tive vice­president of marketing at Pep­ siCo South Asia.

which have nothing to do with the product, Mad Angles. “The sense of humour is such that it’s not universal, and yet it strikes an absurd chord. Everyone will have their own favourite Bingo ad,” says Mathias.

ASIAN PAINTS—HAR GHAR KUCH KEHTA HAI The commercial influenced not just advertising within the paints category, but other categories as well. The most recent advertisement for Tata Walky phones has the same imagery. “Unlike most ads which had a structure—a beginning, middle and end—this had none. Yet, you couldn’t keep your eyes off it,” says Khalap.

BALBIR PASHA KO AIDS HOGA KYA? The advertisements showed people talking about a fictional character, Balbir Pasha, and his chances of contracting AIDS. The advertisements were meant to correct misconceptions about the disease and get people talking about it more openly, which it did. “It was an advertising solution, rather than an execution,” said Desai. “In terms of the depth, newness and scale of problem it was trying to address, I think it had a strong impact.”


FINDING THE AUTHENTIC IN A COOKIE­CUTTER WORLD

TRAVEL FOOD

22 BY SALIL TRIPATHI

THE UNBEARABLE LIKENESS

OF TRAVELLING In a world reeling under the relentless onslaught of malls, supermarkets and hotel rooms, discovering the distinct has become an elusive art

MICHELE TANTUSSI/BLOOMBERG

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here are times when I have got up in a strange hotel room in the early hours of dawn, before the Bach melody in my cellphone wakes me up. The light is beginning to emerge at the rim where the sky meets land, and the night loosens its hold over the city. I get up and draw the curtains, but the cityscape does not boast of a familiar landmark. A sign advertising Coca-Cola keeps blinking, as if mocking me. When I arrived the previous night, at the airport, the money changers had closed for the day, so the currency notes I’m carrying in my wallet can’t tell me where I am. The mini-bar in my room does not offer much help: It has Heineken and Carlsberg beer; chocolate bars of Toblerone and Kit Kat, and the nuts, Planters. The newspaper they will leave outside my room in the morning will be the International Herald Tribune. If I turn on the television set, there are strange programmes in a language I don’t understand; the only networks in English are Discovery, showing me the mating ritual of rhinos, CNN going on about an American football match, and the BBC World Service needling my conscience with another disaster somewhere. Where am I? Nothing distinguishes my hotel room from any other that I have slept in in the past decade. That hotel room is in fact an extension of the cocoon that begins at the airport itself: All shops are identical, selling similar perfumes, liquor, toys, and artefacts from museums. You find San Francisco’s Ghirardelli chocolates at the airport in New York; the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s shop in Singapore; you eat sushi at Heathrow Airport in London. And at the new, swanky airports in India, there

DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG

SEOKYONG LEE/BLOOMBERG

Freed markets: The fall of the Berlin Wall (top) led to the proliferation of global brands, from Starbucks (above) to McDonald’s. is Costa Coffee, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, and Accessorize shops. As Pico Iyer memorably observes in his book The Global Soul, you fret because another McDonald’s opens in your town just as a new Thai eatery opens in Berlin. We live surrounded by sameness, and a sense of seamlessness adds to that sameness, which spreads beyond the airports and the hotels, to the malls and the main streets, with its Pizza Huts and Burger Kings, Pizza Expresses and WH Smiths. The comfort of the familiar dispels any urge to be distinct. It wasn’t like that a decade ago. Shops and businesses behaved like people—they knew their place, they flaunted their separateness. They didn’t venture out too far. Foreign travel was still rare. But when the Berlin Wall fell, economies opened, more people became prosperous, and more of them began to travel in vast numbers, and so did shops. It made economic sense—cultural sensitivity apart—to open an

American coffee shop like Starbucks in Europe, because Americans were turning up in droves in European capitals, and there, when they wanted coffee, they wanted something milky and frothy and sugary, not the austere, strong espresso served by the spoonful in tiny cups. And so it was with Filipinos: They went to Dubai to work, and dutifully, Jollibee’s opened there, offering them their pineapple pies. To get away from this conformity, you had to get off the beaten track. To step aside from the ubiquity and uniformity you had to discover the road not taken, the path not trodden on, and if you wanted an experience that could be described as unique, which the tourist brochures invariably promised but rarely delivered—authenticity. And as the world gets even more integrated, and as China and India, and more countries like them, try to imitate the developed world, those places that are distinct disappear fast; exploring them becomes an art. The challenge then is no longer

to go boldly where no one has gone before—that’s probably impossible now, except in some remote rainforest—but to go where Lonely Planet hasn’t set foot yet. Or to create your own narrative, and not the one the guidebook dictates. I’ve tried doing that in my travels over the years. After the business that has brought me to a city is done, I try to follow the whims of authors, moving from one table to another in Paris, pursuing the lost whispers of Hemingway and Fitzgerald at Café de Flore and La Closerie des Lilas and Dome and Café les Deux Magots and Lipp. Or, chasing the vanishing shadows of Graham Greene in Saigon, stepping out of the hotel and once again imagining Dong Khoi as Rue Catinat, looking for the woman in an ao-dai and a conical hat who serves the best pho, the Vietnamese steamy soup. And another time, in Tokyo, when a meeting gets cancelled, I have hopped in the Shinkansen, or the bullet train, and headed for Kyoto, and once there, to Kinkaku-ji, the golden pavilion that a fanatical monk set afire because he could not withstand its beauty, and to understand that fury, I have turned to Yukio Mishima, himself a man of passion who, many years later, committed a spectacular suicide after failing

to enthuse troops to rebel and restore the glory of the Japanese emperor. Or, earlier this year, when I was in Santiago, and I had a day to spare before flying home, I left for the Pacific coast, to Valparaiso and Isla Negra, where the mighty waves of the ocean lashed the beachfront near Pablo Neruda’s home, where you get sprinkled with drops of water, like dewdrops, inspiring a poem. And at other times, I have followed the path of history, trying to glimpse what happened and why. In Mostar, we stood in front of a bridge that once united the Croat and Muslim parts of the city, but which was torn down by a commander during the Balkan war; in Berlin, I’ve walked with a friend who took me from one footpath to another, to metallic plates installed as stumbling blocks on those footpaths, to commemorate Jewish families who lived in buildings nearby; and in the expansive Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, I noticed an unruly growth disturbing the perfect symmetry of the garden, and a friend told me—that was the original hedge, built to keep away the khoisan, or the Khoi people, the original inhabitants who lived in South Africa, before some whites came by the sea and some blacks by land. As the relentless onslaught of malls, supermarkets, hotel rooms and airport lobbies makes the world dully homogenous, it remains a fascinating challenge to encounter parts that lie beneath. It may be hard to remember where you bought that Ferragamo tie, those Godiva chocolates, that Glenlivet single malt, or even that necklace from Tiffany’s. But it isn’t easy to forget those basketful of poems Neruda leaves imprinted in your mind, nor the shiver other memories bring, like at the foot of the blue Ngong Hills where, as Karen Blixen once wrote, she had a farm in Africa, where “in the day-time you felt that you had got high up; near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.” Now, that’s where a narrative can begin; and seeing those hills, with her words reverberating, the trip becomes travel. I no longer remember what took me to Nairobi—but those blue hills will stay with me, always.

DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG

Salil Tripathi often takes too long at immigration counters deciding between ‘business’ and ‘pleasure’ when he has to state the purpose of his visit to a new country

Global footprint: Go where Lonely Planet hasn’t ventured.


L12

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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2009

Travel

LOUNGE PHOTOGRAPHS

BY

RISHAD SAAM MEHTA

LAPLAND

Santa lives here For a Christmas with the big man and reindeers, there’s only one place to go

B Y R ISHAD S AAM M EHTA ···························· octor D’mello’s Dormitory for the Deeply Demented,” exclaimed a well-wisher when I told him about my Christmas-in-the-Arctic-Circle plan, “that is your ideal destination for Christmas, considering the condition of your upper storey.” “But Santa Claus is there and I have been good, so I’m going to collect,” I explained. He gave me a worried look, no doubt thinking that the only place I should be headed for the holidays was a padlocked, padded cell, and then tried to convince me again. “Have you seriously lost it? You’ll freeze and come back frost-bitten.” But shying away from extremes has never been my game and I walked out of Rovaniemi’s little airport on a crisp December evening with snow crunching underfoot. In that first instant, I knew exactly what J.K. Rowling had in mind for a dementor’s kiss. Every BTU of heat seemed to be sucked out of me in a second, even the moisture in my breath froze and

Come all ye faithful: (clockwise from top) Rudolph the reindeer’s sleigh; Santa delivering gifts; an ice restaurant near Rovaniemi.

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irritated the back of my throat. “Hello and welcome,” said Steffi, who was there from Lapland Safaris to greet me. She was snug behind layers of Gore-Tex, nylon and polyester. “We’ll get you into your Arctic kit and you’ll soon forget about the cold and start enjoying Lapland in the winter.” Coming from a country where woollies are pulled out with much fanfare when the mercury falls below 15 degrees Celsius, most of us would consider prancing about outdoors at the same figure on the wrong side of zero maniacal. But,

TRIP PLANNER/LAPLAND Norways

Ivalo Russia

Enontekio Sweden

LAPLAND Pyha Levi

A Schengen visa works for Finland. Apply at the Embassy of Finland, E-3 Nyay Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi-21 (tel: 011-41497570), or at any EU embassy. Visas cost Rs3900. FinnAir connects Helsinki directly with Delhi (economy round-trip fares, including taxes, from Rs31,405). Rovaniemi is an hour’s flight north of Helsinki (on FinnAir, return fares start from Rs12,500). There is also a lovely overnight train between Helsinki and Rovaniemi; fares start from Rs5,600. Book online at www.vr.fi/eng

believe me, it’s all in the mind. Once I was in my Arctic gear, the cold lost its icy edge. It was a clear day and, during this time of the year, the sun skirts the horizon, rather than popping over and disappearing under it. So daylight hours are a long extended moment of dawn, the night sky is a hue of indigo blue and the land glows, thanks to residual light reflecting off the snow everywhere. Rovaniemi is the capital of Finnish Lapland, a village that grew up to be a town. It got its first traffic lights last year and the residents

thought they were an unnecessary extravagance. Once in my hotel room, in a fell about 30km from the airport, I was all set to toast myself before the roaring fire in the cosy lounge when I heard the roar of engines starting up. I rushed outside and, in the quick diminishing light saw them: a line-up of Lynx skimobiles—or skidoos, as they are popularly called—their idling engines making them quiver like beasts impatient to get going. A group of German tourists was about to set off for an evening snowmobile safari through the fell and forested hillsides. “Would you like to join us?” asked Steffi. Would I ever? In a flash I was in my Arctic suit on my skidoo, part of the nine-vehicle convoy. Reading the lust for speed quite correctly in our eyes, Steffi emphatically laid out a few ground rules: We would proceed in a single file. There would be no racing. No

Stay and do Rovaniemi

FINLAND Helsinki GRAPHICS

BY

AHMED RAZA KHAN/MINT

It makes sense to have your entire winter visit customized according to what you want to do through operators like Lapland Safaris (www.lainsafarit.fi) or A La Carte Lapland (www.alacartelapland.com). A two-night/three days trip, inclusive of snowmobile safaris, reindeer farm visit, Santa Claus visit--he's on attendance round the year—husky safari, the Arctic kit (insulating overalls, warm shoes, snug mittens, balaclava and helmet, available in all sizes), accommodation and some meals costs around Rs38,000. For more information on Santa's Village, go to www.santaclausvillage.info So far as the cold is concerned, it’s not unbearable and you'll get used to it in a day or so. One trick I found useful was to avoid looking at the thermometer.

Blue­nosed skidoo: Mehta on his skimobile.

overtaking either. But she set such a blistering pace that soon the forested hillsides with their snowladen birches were throbbing with the throaty exhaust notes of the 400 cc Rotax engines. We zigzagged through forested paths and twisty trails, up and down the white hillsides, pausing only to let wild reindeer herds cross the path. Midway, we stopped for a cup of hot berry juice around a fire. Lest we forget where we were, we were treated to a splendid display of the Aurora Borealis, the famed Northern Lights. The Kemijoki river, which runs past Rovaniemi, morphs into a frozen highway for skidoos in winter, complete with signposts and speed limits. The next morning I set out on one with Steffi as my pillion towards Santa Claus Village, 34.2km away. By now I had quite got the hang of the skidoo and could zip through narrow trails with snowdrifts on either side without lifting off the throttle. So close to Christmas, Santa’s village was a flurry of activity, with decorated Christmas trees at every corner and the merry ambient sound of sleigh bells. Elves, or staff, were furiously sorting mail. A letter addressed to “Santa Claus, Arctic Circle”, dropped in any post box around the world, will find its way here. No surprise then that Santa’s post office receives up to 32,000 letters a day in the run-up to Christmas. Every letter with a return address is answered. Still, scores of children were here in person to see the big man for themselves. While their mums shopped for official Santa Claus merchandise—no freebies here—and the fathers eyed the elves, very pretty rosy-cheeked Finnish girls, we lined up with them to go and meet Father

Christmas himself in his study. Now I knew—as I have no doubt some of them did too—that it’s just a regular guy dressed up as Santa Claus in there, but the creaking footboards and the cavelike atmosphere allow quite a willing suspension of disbelief. Excitement peaked as we finally filed inside the warm study presided over by a Santa exuding exemplary good cheer. Rugs and bookshelves and an antique telephone made for the perfect setting for the large man with the flowing beard and furry moccasins, as dozens of wildly excited children made a beeline to be photographed with him. But it’s getting on to Christmas, and so Santa had only limited time for his faithfuls. On to, then, his nine reindeer: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder, Blitzen and, of course, Rudolf, him of the red nose, at Konttaniemi Reindeer Farm, 14km away, by the Ounasjoki river. After glasses of hot berry juice—cranberry, blueberry, cloudberry, lingonberry are very popular in Finland—we could finally try our luck with the reindeer sleighs. I waited till I was out of earshot and then tried my deepest imitation of “Ho, ho, ho, up you go”. But try as I might, not a single reindeer went airborne. My next few days in and around Rovaniemi, were spent visiting the stunning Artikum museum and going on a husky safari. By now the cold had become inconsequential, even though at times it did touch -20 degrees Celsius. I spent the jolliest time of the year in the neighbourhood of the season’s central figure and returned home feeling warm inside and with all my extremities intact. Dr D’mello’s dorm can wait a couple more years. Write to lounge@livemint.com CHILD­FRIENDLY RATING

Perfect for children of all ages.


L12

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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2009

Travel

LOUNGE PHOTOGRAPHS

COOCH BEHAR

BY

CHITRALEKHA BASU

Fit for a queen In the North Bengal district the late Rajmata called home, they worship strange gods B Y C HITRALEKHA B ASU ···························· ooch Behar’s is a story about water. The Torsa, traipsing downhill from Bhutan, skirts the south and west boundaries of the eponymous capital of this erstwhile princely state, going off at a tangent, running southwards towards the Bangladesh border. The river—turgid during the monsoons and lean through the rest of the year—is like a backdrop against which the city’s skyline is painted. Large tanks (dighis, as they are locally called) filled to the brim with dark water seem to materialize every 200m. There is Bairagi Dighi, located in front of the Madan Mohan temple, doubling as a base for festive pandals, Rajmata Dighi next to the bus terminus, Shiv Dighi, sandwiched between Cooch Behar Government College and the Cooch Behar rail station, Chandan Dighi to the west of the district hospital and 20-odd other water bodies. The Baneswar Shiv temple is adjacent to a tank packed with tortoises that stick their necks out to snatch the morsels offered by devout onlookers. In fact, the hub of the city’s office district is an enormous lake, Sagar Dighi, reflecting the 19th century colonial mansions in its still waters. The other conspicuous feature of Cooch Behar is its religious fervour. A catholicity of views finds expression virtually everywhere. The security officer in front of the Madan Mohan temple points out that the architecture is a mix of Hindu (lotus and pot on top), Islamic (the low, trellised boundary around the first-floor terrace) and European/Central Asian (dome and arches) styles. Built by Maharaja Nripendra Narayan in the

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1880s—the heyday of the Koch dynasty, granted 13 gun salutes by the British for being a friendly vassal and later a proponent of liberal Western education—this unobtrusive structure, painted bright white, we’re told, was open to people from different communities. The major deity here is a bronze idol of Madan Mohan (Lord Krishna), playing the flute. Traditionally, a family of Muslim carpenters carves the elaborate raaschakra (wheel with embellishments), the focal point at the annual raasmela, said to be one of the oldest fairs in the country. Strange gods may be found in Cooch Behar. At Madhupur Dham, 10km west of Cooch Behar town, for instance, an

anachronistic mosaic-tiled arch leads to a temple and monastery. Inside the sanctum, there are no deities, only the relics and personal effects—ink pot, clogs, a rosary—of Shankar Dev, to whom the temple is dedi-

TRIP PLANNER/COOCH BEHAR To Bagdogra

To Thimphu

New Railway Station

COOCH BEHAR Palace

Airport

To Guwahati

Bagdogra

Cooch Behar

INDIA

Fly from Kolkata to Bagdogra on Jet Konnect; round-trip fares from Rs3,400. Rent a cab to go to Cooch Behar for between Rs800 and Rs1,000; the journey will take 5-6 hours. Or catch any of a number of daily trains—the Teesta-Torsa Express, Uttar Banga Express, Kanchan Kanya Express—from Sealdah or Howrah for New Cooch Behar station. The return fare for AC III-tier is Rs 1,200. For sightseeing in and around town, cars may be hired for a minimum of 4 hours, at the rate of Rs400-600 per day (Gopinath Travels: 09733152191). For intra-city travel, rickshaws are convenient; a spin around town won’t cost more than Rs35.

Stay

West Bengal Kolkata

Eat

Do

Benfish’s Maharaja Tourist Complex (Tel: 03582-223094; tariff: Rs300-1,000 plus taxes), is modelled on Cooch Behar’s colonial-style heritage structures and located next to a lake on Magazine Road. For a more central location, try the hotels on BS Road or Rupnarayan Road. Hotel Yubraj (Tel: 03582-227885/231710; Rs350-2,200) is a facility to suit every pocket.

The standard north Indian/Bengali/Chinese meals are available on the Mall, opposite the Cooch Behar Palace. Restaurant Monarch, Hotel Yubraj’s in-house diner, offers decent fare. To sample fish caught from the local ‘beels’ (lakes) and rivers, try Rasoi Restaurant. They also make delicious momos. For lip-smacking street food, try Allahabad Chat Centre on Rupnarayan Road. The best time to visit is November through March. The Raas Mela carnival, which starts a fortnight after Diwali, lasts for about 15 days. If you are into ornithology, December-January is when the migratory birds descend on the ‘beels’. Must-visits include Cooch Behar Palace, Baneswar Shiv Temple, Madhupur Dham, Sagar Dighi and the colonial mansions surrounding it, painted in bright burnt sienna, and Madan Mohan Temple. Rasik Beel, a bird sanctuary, deer park and rehabilitation project for wild animals, is 42km from Cooch Behar town. To see the excavation site of the old capital at Rajpat Mound, one will have to travel 35km south-west from the town towards Gosanimari. Kamteswari Temple is on the way. If you are interested in local crafts, visit Ghugumari, about 4km south of Cooch Behar town, to pick up ‘shitalpati’—rattan mats that come with lovely motifs—and purses and bags made from the same material. To check out jute bags, dolls, shoes and jewellery in rainbow colours, go to Lankapara, Pilkhana.

AHMED RAZA KHAN/MINT

cated, covered with fabric from Assam, woven with gold and red thread. Shankar Dev, a Vaishnav preacher hounded out of Assam in the early 16th century, found asylum with the Koch kings Pran Narayan and Bir Narayan, who would spend time at his sanctuary in quiet meditation. The present temple, of course, was built rather recently, in 1964, hence the confounding mixture of styles. Decked-up young women arrive on pillion with their boyfriends or demurely follow mothers, queuing up at the temple of Mashan Baba, en route to the temple of Kamteswari in Gosanimari. The giant idol of Mashan Baba—supposedly a cross between the mighty Bhim from Mahabharat and Yama, the Hindu god of death—is a favourite of the local women for solving their personal crises. The light-skinned Mashan Baba, who stares rather menacingly into the distance, is in fact a benign presence, the reason why two rather weather-beaten pigeons are found perched on his left knee at all times. On our way to Gosanimari, the site of Rajpat Mound, the remains of the old capital, our car is flagged down every half a kilometre. Pint-sized children, struggling to pull up their oversized knickers, thump on the windows. “Subscription for Kali Puja? Sure. On our way back. Can’t you see we’re on our way to the temple,” says Joydeep, our driver, trying to gulp down a self-congratulatory smile, contemplating how the diminutive “devotees” would be left waiting all day while he took an alternative route back home. Joydeep

Royal insignia: (clockwise from above) Cooch Behar Palace; the Benfish Tourist Lodge; jute handicrafts being woven; and the royal coat of arms on the palace gates.

seemed to have a mystic ability to locate the odd shrine, temple and monastery behind the curtain of rice fields, teak forests, bamboo groves and pati (a variety of cane) on either side of the winding state highway. Talking of pati, it’s difficult to imagine how this innocuous plant (reeds, really) could induce a large-scale movement. The story is narrated by Tagar Rani Dey, who won a national award in 1990 for her imaginative reinvention of the humble sleeping mat. The widespread cultivation of cane—artisans process and weave the fibre into the cooling sitalpati to international acclaim—had led to a clash with local farmers, who resented the artisans’ “easy money”. How Tagar’s

husband, a Vaishnav kirtan (religious songs) singer, resolved the crisis, managing to win over some of the hostile peasants and educate them in the fine art of making pictures on rattan, is a tale that will sustain a few more re-tellings. From the humble to the majestic—the Cooch Behar palace is unequivocally the most spectacular of the district’s attractions. This grand structure was built during the reign of Nripendra Narayan in 1887 by English architects, who borrowed freely from classical European styles. The dome, for instance, is supposedly designed after the St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Corinthian columns are Grecian, the floral patterns on the frosted

glass panels are Belgian in style, the turrets with weathercocks at the four ends are very British and the pleasing mosaic tiles in the hexagonal Durbar Hall are distinctively Italian. Once a royal residence, the majestic house with heavy black mahogany doors and a glittering silver dome is now partly a museum. The Italianstyle marble busts of maharanis Suniti and Indira and maharajas Nripendra and Jitendra look down on a huge mosaic-tiled image of the Koch dynasty’s coat of arms—an Indian adaptation of the lion and the unicorn, with the latter replaced by an elephant, and the figure of a mace-wielding Hanuman added on top. The person who’s sorely missed is the gorgeous Gayatri Devi, a daughter of the house who married into the royal house of Jaipur. There isn’t much evidence of her presence, except maybe a few uncaptioned sepia photographs from her childhood. But with her death in July, the town lost its biggest icon. Write to lounge@livemint.com CHILD­FRIENDLY RATING

While not specifically geared towards children, Cooch Behar has plenty to intrigue slightly older children.


L14

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SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2009

Books

LOUNGE

THE DOGS AND THE WOLVES | IRÈNE NÉMIROVSKY

POSTSCRIPT

The agony and ecstasy The latest translation of this writer’s work shows her mastery over her craft B Y C HANDRAHAS C HOUDHURY ···························· he life of Russo-French writer Irène Némirovsky had an arc as dramatic and tragic as that of a character in a perfectly crafted but disturbing story. Born in Ukraine in 1903 to a prosperous Jewish family, she was taken to France when a teenager, and garnered immediate acclaim in her 20s for a number of precociously accomplished novels. Némirovsky’s family had fled Russia because of the persecution of Jews there, but her ethnic identity was to continue to haunt her. When France fell to Hitler’s army in World War II, Némirovsky was captured and sent to a concentration camp, and in Auschwitz in 1942 the career of this brilliant writer was snuffed out. Many decades would pass before her literary reputation was resurrected. But since the success of Suite Francaise (2004), an ambitious but unfinished novel belatedly discovered in a suitcase, there has been a Némi-

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AFP

Portrait: Némirovsky’s fame as an author got a fresh lease after the posthumous publication of her unfinished novel Suite Francaisein 2004.

The Dogs and the Wolves: Chatto & Windus, 216 pages, £12.99 (around Rs1,000). rovsky novel brought out in English almost every year by her able translator Sandra Smith. The most distinctive characteristic of Némirovsky’s work is the epic scope of her stories and the extreme compression and dramatic precision of her novelistic method. Though her books span the events of many years—All Our Worldly Goods, for instance, begins before World War I and ends after the second—they are rarely more than 200 pages long. They dive in and out of life. In her newly translated novel, The Dogs and the Wolves, the main characters of the story are followed all the way from childhood to maturity, but without any attempt at a forced continuity. It is perfectly normal for Némirovsky to begin one of her short, beautifully composed chapters (composed both in the sense of “crafted”, as well as in the sense of poised, serene) by saying, “Two years later, Harry was waiting for Laurence at...” These gaps and jumps create, paradoxically, a sense of roominess in the narrative; we repeatedly experience a sense of time expanding and collapsing. Literary novelists are often accused of holding the pleasures of plot in contempt. But Némirovsky is one of those writers who revels in the heat and light of a good story. One of her novels is titled Fire in the Blood, and that might serve as an accurate description of her storytelling

instincts, which is to track, and indeed to some degree venerate, the lives of intensely passionate, driven people. The Dogs and the Wolves follows the childhood and youth of three characters. Ada Sinner and her cousin Ben are brought up in a ghetto in a city in Ukraine; their distant relative, Harry, grows up in a gilded palace in the same city. Between them, these three characters represent the dogs and the wolves of the story, the word “dogs” here standing for cultured, well-bred, sleek, comfortable (Harry), and “wolves” for wild, dirty, disturbing (Ada, Ben). When their paths cross for the first time as children, Harry recoils at the sight of the other two, while Ada instantly falls in love with this forbiddingly unattainable boy. Némirovsky follows the story of the tangles into which the three cousins are catapulted, the powerful pulsing and jousting of their respective natures, into their adulthood and into Paris, where they all end up. Every page of The Dogs and the Wolves is marked by the writer’s acute eye for the complexities of human relationships. When Harry falls in love with a young French heiress, his face, we are told, “carried that demanding yet humble expression...that was unique to love as yet acknowledged”. When Harry asks Ada why she does not seem to fear losing him after waiting for so many years to win him, she replies, speaking of how she has always imagined him by her side and in this sense always possessed him: “I invented you, my love. You are much more than my lover. You are my creation.” Némirovsky’s characters are marked by the burning intensity of their need and the scale of their dreaming, and this is what, alongside the intensity of the narrating voice itself, makes her novels so hypnotically attractive. Chandrahas Choudhury is the author of Arzee the Dwarf. Write to lounge@livemint.com IN SIX WORDS An ode to driven, passionate people

A PACK OF LIES | URMILA DESHPANDE

Mother to mother Adolescent sex, a towering mother, motherhood—this is grown­up chick lit B Y S UMANA M UKHERJEE ···························· coming-of-age novel has become something of a rite of passage for debuting Indian writers in English. Which is all very well, except that going by the oeuvre, everyone growing up in this country over the past 40 years has led the same life. Consequently, we are being treated to the same story till we have sexual awakenings and dalliances with drugs coming out of our ears. So yes, Urmila Deshpande’s debut novel, A Pack of Lies, checks all the boxes: aloof mother, absent father, adolescent sex and a superneedy protagonist that makes you glad your own teenage is behind

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you. Simultaneously, it makes you wish for a time when storylines didn’t echo author bios so closely. Consider this: “Urmila Deshpande lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with her family. Modelling, photography, editing and motherhood prepared her to write.” Replace the author’s name with that of her protagonist, and you pretty much have a summary of the book. With no surprises in the story, it all boils down to the technique, and that’s where Deshpande scores. Spurning the conventional chapter break-up and adopting a non-chronological, daubing style, the author achieves a racy narrative. The unpretentious style works well for the chaotic life she charts: There’s a candour in the wild child episodes of the hash hunt in Manali—the book unfolds largely against the backdrop of the advertising world in the Mumbai of the 1980s, what did you expect—and the unapolo-

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A Pack of Lies: Tranquebar, 291 pages, Rs295. getic man-hopping, but… And it’s a big but. Ginny lives through multiple relationships, modelling success, a career switch-over behind the camera, riots, police raids, reunions with long-lost sisters, gruesome parental secrets, motherhood and much therapy, yet she remains untouched and unchanged from first page to last. Her friends have been replaced by family, but in essence she remains

the little girl looking for love. This major flaw could have something to do with the author’s—and, by extension, the protagonist’s—refusal to look Ginny’s mother in the eye. Most of Ginny’s issues are born in this thorny relationship, yet it is “resolved” in the most predictable fashion ever, when Ginny is about to become a mother herself. In contrast to the early scenes, when their confrontations—or the lack of them—touch raw chords, this sudden thaw towards the end undermines the very core of the book. In particular, the scene by the death bed, when difficult daughters encounter their mother’s fans and see a whole new side to their terror figure, has been, if you’ll pardon the expression, done to death. But perhaps that’s making heavy weather of a book that, for all intents and purposes, reads like grown-up chick lit. Deshpande can be fun, fairly gripping reading if you don’t look deep—and that’s exciting news for her publishers. Write to lounge@livemint.com

LAKSHMI CHAUDHRY

DO YOU MISS THE PAPER?

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eff Bezos has built a machine that marks a cultural revolution,” writes Jacob Weisberg in a breathless Newsweek column that apologizes for being “irksomely enthusiastic about my cool new literature delivery system”, as in Kindle, Amazon.com’s wireless reading device. “Enthusiastic” is an understatement for what follows. “The Kindle 2 signals that after a happy, 550-year union, reading and printing are getting separated,” Weisberg grandly declares. “It tells us that printed books, the most important artefacts of human civilization, are going to join newspapers and magazines on the road to obsolescence.” No need for fascists to throw our books in the bonfire; we’ll soon be doing it for them. So are you ready to Kindle? The international edition is now available in India for the low, low price of $279 (around Rs13,000). Add the sales tax, shipping and import duty, and you end up paying $405 for the privilege of sending the printing press to its tree-hating, pre-digital, Luddite grave. As for literary snobs wrinkling their noses in their parchment-lined ivory towers, Amazon.com will have you know (video testimonials available!) Kindle’s most fervent supporters include Toni Morrison, Michael Lewis, Neil Gaiman and—hold your breath—James Patterson. No word on the Really Big Names, i.e. the likes of Ondaatje, Amis or Roth. The odds are that in most cases authorial narcissism will prevail over principle. Not all have succumbed to the siren call of Kindle. Nicholson Baker penned a 6,000-word polemic in The New Yorker bemoaning the visuals, or lack thereof. “(Kindle’s font) Monotype Caecilia was grim and Calvinist; it had a way of reducing everything to arbitrary heaps of words,” Baker writes of his experience, “You get the words, yes, and sometimes pictures, after a fashion. Photographs, charts, diagrams, foreign characters, and tables don’t fare so well on the little grey screen.” Purchase an e-textbook on oncology and you may never learn to identify a tumour. RAMIN TALAIE/BLOOMBERG

Fast read: The Kindle has been endorsed by Toni Morrison. A well-loved book offers many pleasures, tactile, aesthetic and emotional. Downloading some text on Kindle can never match the unalloyed pleasure of a well-loved object that can please by its presence. The mere sight of the 1924 edition of R.G. Collingwood’s Speculum Mentis on my bookshelf makes me happy. In Ex Libris, Anne Fadiman describes her family’s love for books as “carnal”, less concerned with form than content: “To us, a book’s words were holy, but the paper, cloth, cardboard, glue, thread, and ink that contained them were a mere vessel, and it was no sacrilege to treat them as wantonly as desire and pragmatism dictated.” To separate a book entirely from its vessel, however, is another matter. Fadiman is no fan of Kindle, and is one of the few who hopes her books will never be offered in an e-format. Then again Fadiman has likely never wandered into an Indian bookstore, a bibliophile’s seventh circle of hell. Finding an author or title in the fiction aisle is nothing short of a miracle. Books are shelved with blithe disregard for genre: Look, there’s Mary Higgins Clark cuddling up to J.M. Coetzee in the literature section. The good stuff is always missing or out of stock, but lovers of Patterson, Robert Ludlum or Agatha Christie need never fear. There are always at least three copies of everything they ever wrote. There’s no better cure for my inner Luddite than a trip to the local Crossword store. Kindle may not be a perfect or even adequate substitute for the beloved book, but I’d rather curl up with a good novel displayed in “Kindle grey” than have to make do with another edition of Jason Bourne’s adventures. Write to Lakshmi at postscript@livemint.com

FREE VERSE | CHANDRAHAS CHOUDHURY

If I Should Let Every Feeling If I should let every feeling show And never myself to myself keep I should leave myself with nowhere to go My door being open while I sleep. If my nature knows nor day nor night Is swiftly sized as soon as seen Keeps its colour in the changing light It asks for trouble from the human mean. No—I should this ungated house extend, Build by breaking, fence the word, blast the line— Perplex myself, and thus myself defend From sunlight. I’ll be less, but more will be mine. In that new room let there a mirror be— And let my reflection there—a stranger see. Write to lounge@livemint.com


Lounge some pages from nov-dec issue 2009  

pages from Lounge newspaper, few pages from Nov-Dec issue 2009.

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