Category Archives: Culture

Chamundi, churchgoing, city lights

On Sunday, we drove down to Mysore. We ate lunch at The Metropole, which was a former guest house for the Wodeyar family’s special guests and is now a Royal Orchid property. Then, we drove up Chamundi Hill. Both of us have seen all the ‘sights’ before so we were just trying to hang out somewhere other than Koshy’s. It made for a nice change. We saw a surprised mongoose who gazed at us solemnly before scooting into the bushes. We also spent a great deal of time contemplating three extraordinary beehives at the church later. Pictures below.

The city is gearing up for Dassera and after 6.30 pm, the lights came on. Now, what I mean by that is not only the palace, which is illuminated every evening during the week up to Dassera, but almost every other public building, many shops, and most roads were glittering. It was quite overwhelming.

At the palace, there were hordes of enthusiastic people. There were also lots of red, heart-shaped balloons, which I could see bobbing over the silhouettes of a million heads or so. My pictures of the illuminated palace were taken from a moving car so they haven’t come out so well but there are plenty of images online.

Traffic management was impressive — they had these policemen and policewomen (in equal numbers) dressed nattily and wearing red feathers in their hats, and they had policemen on horses at major traffic junctions like Devraj Urs Market. It was the first time I had seen mounted policemen so I giggled and gasped, and fumed at unimportant things like moving traffic getting in the way of my camera. We also saw four elephants rehearsing their march for the parade on the final day. It’s sad that the fear of bombs have scared people off from the celebrations this year. Apparently, apart from foreigners and tourists, even locals are staying away.

Chamundi Hills, Mysore


Hotel Metropole, Mysore


St Philomena’s Church, Mysore.


City Lights

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Dastangoi

India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) recently brought down Mahmood Farooqui and Danish Husain for a Dastangoi performance. Dastangoi is a tradition of oral story-telling, which goes back a gadzillion years to medieval Iran. The dastan-gohs (narrators), inspired by the Shahnama—a story of kings composed in verse by the famous poet, Firdausi — recited tales wherever they found willing listeners. The stories revolved around commonly loved themes. Brave princes. Evil kings. Lovable tricksters called ‘ayyars’. Then there was the usual assortment of demons, magicians, jinns and other evil people. Dan (as Husain is popularly known) and Farooqui have resuscitated this dying art and have been performing for a couple of years, but I think this was their first time in Bangalore.

I tend to believe I’m a bit aurally challenged. Hearing tests have said that my hearing is perfectly sound but what do they know? Gah. In any case, I usually prefer to read rather than listen. Which is why I was faintly skeptical about a Dastangoi performance. I mean, I had heard only good things but would they really hold my attention with two hours of story-telling? I was happily gobsmacked to find that they did indeed.

The stories Hussain and Farooqui perform are mainly from the Dastan-e-Amir-Hamza and the first episode was a story in which Amar Ayyar cleverly tricks a jadugar and gets into his palace by pretending to be a woman. Early on, Farooqui told us not to balk if we didn’t get all the words. A necessary warning in Bangalore where many people don’t know Hindi, and therefore would find it harder to understand Urdu. ‘Hold the thread of the story’ and you’ll be fine, he said. At least, that’s what I understood. And going by the post-performance discussion, that seemed to have worked well for most people. With my limited exposure to Hindustani, I missed some of the more poetic descriptions. But I found that it didn’t matter too much. Urdu is such a mellifluous language; I just let the words wash over me, enjoying their warm soothe, trying to hold on to the thread like he said.

When the Amir Hamza story ended in a little more than an hour, I wondered if attention would flag. It may have if they had continued on a similar tack. I like clever con artists and stupid, vain villains just as much as the next person, but I need to close the book on them at intervals. But they quickly launched into a very different type of story — a script they have written themselves about the Partition. Using an ancient art form to communicate something with so much contextual relevance is clever and, if not done well, can fall flat on its face. But they did it well. So well in fact that I found myself moved anew by their narrative on corpse-filled trains, lost houses, abducted women. These are stories one has heard before and there is the danger of feeling jaded. But there was an intensity they brought to the telling, an authenticity to the characters they spoke about that was engaging. I saw many women surreptitiously wiping their eyes when they talked about how abducted women chose the protection of the rapists and kidnappers because things could be so much worse.

Farooqui says in this interview:

The Dastan-e-Amir Hamza, which runs into 46 volumes, is ostensibly about the life of Hamza, the paternal uncle of the Holy Prophet Mohammad. At one level, it purports to be an account of the triumph of Islamic armies over infidels and worshippers of other Gods. But in its essence, it is a highly secular narrative. Its modern day equivalent would be Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, or even Hindi cinema. Its world is fascinating, full of magic and sorcery and tricksters, tilisms governed by fantastical characters and qualities. It is an unstoppable riot of names, places, scenes, descriptions, battles, love-making, seduction. It is really about letting go.

There was a sense of this ‘letting go’ that they brought to their Dastangoi performance. They used plenty of tonal shifts to ensure that the telling did not become a drone, but in places they were also frankly loud or emotive. In one scene, they did a hammy crying routine. Quite over-the-top and utterly hilarious. Yet, in places, they were restrained. And it was this careful control over the tension between emotional spill and subtlety that gave the performance texture. Dastangoi itself, as an art form, lies somewhere in between recitation and theatre, and stepping stealthily in between these lines is something that probably defines its success.

The duo worked well together. At a very obvious level, their voices complemented each other. When one picked up from where the other left off, there was a pleasing shift, not jarring but clear. There was something underlying as well. They were dressed alike and there was no conscious effort to delineate themselves but each had a strong, distinctive personality, which made for nice interplay. For instance, Dan (or his dastan-goh persona) seemed more self-assuredly aware of his own cunning and it made sense when he impersonated a beautiful woman to get into the jadugar’s palace. Farooqui’s quiet thoughtfulness was excellent for the second part when he read out the correspondence between a Hindu in India and a Muslim in Pakistan on the insurance papers one has left behind.

On an entirely separate note, ITC Windsor had set up a cute, little stage with bolsters and all but I couldn’t help imagining how a more baithak-style gathering would have felt. Of course, it would be hard to fit as many people in. But maybe, next time. Anyway, afterwards, I did what I normally do when I’ve enjoyed a performance. I retreated into a corner with my drink. And refused to socialise like other nice people do. And had to apologise for my rudeness to Dan on FB. But all that’s another self-indulgent story and I will get into it in another post.

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Look Who We Have Coming to Vogue

Vogue India’s August issue features designer bibs (like the Fendi bib the child in the photo is wearing), handbags, clutches, umbrellas–all modeled by the aam aadmi. Of course, considering that prices for  brands like Hermes Birkin and Burberry can range between $200 and $10,000, this is the only time they will ever get near them. Luxury brands have usually been accused of ignoring the average person in India. This, apparently, is Vogue’s answer to that. Vogue’s logic according to this story:

Vogue India editor Priya Tanna’s message to critics of the August shoot: “Lighten up,” she said in a telephone interview. Vogue is about realizing the “power of fashion” she said, and the shoot was saying that “fashion is no longer a rich man’s privilege. Anyone can carry it off and make it look beautiful,” she said.

“You have to remember with fashion, you can’t take it that seriously,” Ms. Tanna said. “We weren’t trying to make a political statement or save the world,” she said. (emphasis mine)

Seems to me like she’s contradicting herself a bit there. Are we supposed to believe in the ‘power of fashion’ which is going to elevate these poor people and save their lives with $100 Fendi bibs? Or are we supposed to ‘lighten up’ about poverty and have a good chuckle?

One way of looking at it is that this was an earning opportunity for these people. In which case, I’m curious to know whether they were paid as much as regular models or not. I haven’t seen the magazine so I don’t know if the editors have put this in some sort of context or are tying this up with any social programmes. But it’s a little telling that the shoot does not name the models / people in the captions. Only the brands of the accessories.

What do you think?

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Pictures of Bengaluru Pride

I’m not the kind of person who likes participating in marches. Most of the time, I’m not sure what difference they’ll make. But in a country where homosexuality is still illegal, the sheer visibility of the gay pride parade on Sunday made it something worth talking about. (It was Bangalore’s first gay pride parade.) And because sexual freedom is something I feel strongly about, I actually stirred myself (and A) post lunch and made it to JC Road where we joined the parade halfway.

Guesstimates of how many would turn up had ranged from 50 to 1000. The actual number was 500, which most of us agreed was not bad. This consisted of gays, lesbians, hijras, kothis and many straight people who wanted to express solidarity. The mood was an edgy mix of defiance and celebration; lots of colourful flags swished in the breeze; and while some faces were masked, others were joyfully bare. The media had turned up in droves and the police were surprisingly un-troublesome. Here are some snapshots…


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Shreds and Patches: Machilipatnam and Kalamkari

Recently, I traveled on work to the villages around Machilipatnam in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh. I usually enjoy driving through the countryside and this trip involved plenty of that (about three hours back and forth from my hotel in Vijaywada to the villages). Perhaps, the landscape failed to move me because I found the relentless paddy fields (muddy yellow in harvest rather than the fabled gold) dreary, or thought the thin clusters of palm trees rising up at intervals like many-handed gods had something grim about them. Perhaps, my visits to the villages and the relentless stories of poverty, AIDS, domestic violence left me tired. Perhaps, the grey miles of ruined aquaculture farms hardened me. Or maybe, I was just having a bad week. I don’t know what it is but somehow, this particular part of coastal Andhra left a memory of bleakness.

Yet, there were some pleasant moments — pristine white heron speckling the fields, interesting birds near the shrimp farms, cotton trees in bloom, brilliant sunsets and sudden rain. Much of this was witnessed en route and I couldn’t bear to stop Rambhav, the driver, to take pictures every time. Here are some I did manage. Continue reading

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About Ram, Anurupa Roy and Puppeteering

Published in The Hindu today.

“I am fascinated by the relationship between the puppeteer and the puppet,” says Anurupa Roy, founder of Kat Katha and director of About Ram, a new media theatre presentation that had the audience spellbound when it played recently as part of the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) New Performance Festival. Produced by Kat Katha in collaboration with Vishal Dar, About Ram germinated three years ago when Roy watched a Balinese Ramayan. “Watching the Balinese version made me realise that the story changes as it travels,” she explains. “As it travels, it takes on different nuances. I started studying different versions of the Ramayana and came across Bhavabhuti’s Ramayana, which looks at it as the ultimate, tragic love story. It revolves around the theme of universal loneliness—that each human being is ultimately alone. So when Ram chooses kingdom over Sita, the last lines of the poem say ‘he ruled for ten thousand years—alone’.” Continue reading

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Among the Narcissi and carnal loving

The virtual living is getting ridiculous. I think things were under control as long as it was just blogging and (even) until social networking sites like Orkut. Facebook takes things to a different level altogether. For those of you who are not familiar with Facebook, it’s a social networking site that deviates from the standard format of profile pages and guest books and offers members a host of ‘applications’ which give them exciting, albeit virtual, options like gifting eggs that will hatch into pets, or becoming vampires and biting other members or, even, stealing other people’s panties. Continue reading

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