Thursday, December 20, 2007

manhole workers work in blackholes

kolkata is infamous for the terrible blackhole incident which occurred in 1756 during the period of the east india company when hundreds of british soldiers of the east india company were pushed into a dark room in fort william without any ventilation resulting in the death of about 140 of them. siraj ud daula, the then nawab of the entire eastern region, was reacting to the meddling by the company in the political affairs of the bengal state.fearing that bengal will lose its independence,he laid a siege on fort williams. it was called the fort william massacre. more than 150 years later,kolkata is witness to a blackhole in a manhole factory.a foundry in howrah manufactures manhole cover castings and exports them to usa and other countries.the working conditions are appalling.

last year during one of my visits to london,i was quite pleased to see the 'made in india' label on all the manhole covers in a london street when i was strolling in west kensington. little did i know then that the labour practices in the kolkata factory where most of these manholes are manufactured are horrendous.barechested workers with lungis folded up or wearing shorts and barefeet or with hawaii slippers toil for more than 12 hours a day in subhuman onditions under high temperatures(2500 degrees farenheit) and handle molten metal whic is used to make these castings with the minimum of safety equipment. they work on minimum wages stipulated by the west bengal government or less which for their type of work could be less than one dollar and fifty cents a day.the workers in the usa where these manholes are exported earn about 25 dollars an hour! the owners of the factory say that they have to compete with china and therefore they cannot afford to incur higher costs.however,there has been no accident in the foundry so far.that,if true, is indeed a miracle. i wonder what would be the situation in a chinese foundry making similar products. i wouldn't be surprised if conditions are worse than in howrah.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

tiffin@the oberoi

yesterday i hosted a business minilunch in the "tiffin" restaurant at "the oberoi" for my guests from japan and the uk.i was to meet them at 1pm but due to the earlier meeting which got extended,i landed up at about 2pm.i had sent sms messages profusely apologising for the delay and had asked them to start with the customary drinks.

i like the "tiffin", one of the three restaurants at the "the oberoi".situated in the upper lobby, it is essentially a coffee shop with lots of space,good ambience and helpful,fast and courteous service.i have been there many times for quick meetings but this one was a longish guests were taking a flight to nagpur,with kanha as their final destination. kanha has a wellknown tiger sanctuary. by the time i arrived,i found them comfortably settled,each one of them with a glass of beer in his hand.i too joined them and we promptly ordered food.while my british guest and his local contact decided to have sushi with salmons,my japanese friend decided to try goan fish curry with nan.for a change,i ordered "smoked aubergine and onion confit risotto,roast tomato coulis and crisp pontiac potatoes"

it didn't take much time for the food to arrive,though mine was the last.a small cylinder of brown rice was placed in the centre of the plate with fried onion strings circling the rissotto and a strip of tomato sauce.i really wondered where the aubergine,tomato and pontiac potatoes were! neither did i ask as i was quietly enjoying the beer and the conversation.i must ask my daughter,a foodie, who probably can enlighten me on this longish named dish but with the smallest portion of rissoto to eat.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

'sare jahan se accha "hindoostan" hamara,hamara'

an exhibition of original paintings in oil and watercolours and also prints by distinguished european(including british) artists is being held at 'cymroza art gallery',warden road mumbai.till 27th november. these are rare museum quality paintings and prints from the private collection of dinesh and varsha thacker.having received an invitation to attend the inauguration by the british deputy high commissoner,uk which i could not unfortunately attend, i decided to take a dekko this afternoon at lunchtime as i happened to be in warden road for a meeting.

the paintings relate to the indian sub-continent in the 18th and 19th century. hence the name for the exhibition "hindoostan". these paintings were done in oils and watercolours by distinguished european artists. john gantz, william westall, henry singleton, john griffiths to name a few. john grifffiths was responsible for setting up the bombay school of art in india. many of our famous painters have learnt the intricacies of painting in this school. on display were also prints by the daniells brothers-thomas and william, william hodges, james bailee fraser and many others.i have great fascination for the works of daniells which touch my heart.

the subject for the paintings were mainly rural scenes of villagers with their animals, princely families and their domestic staff (a defiant maharaja of holkar,indore, beautifully painted in battlegear),battle and war scenes(tipu sultan and hyder ali), court gatherings and shikar, temples and mosques, religious people, different tribes,festivals etc. the natural flora and fauna were also well covered reflecting the historical and cultural relevance of that period.if you want to see how beautiful bombay was during the british raj,this exhibition gives you a good 81 inch-long watercolour painting by rev w h carpendale gives a panaromic view of bombay from malabar hill in the 1850s.

i met dinesh thacker,50 years old,the collector and keeper of these paintings. a modest and an unassuming person who is totally passionate about paintings. from a young age he and his sister varsha were encouraged by their parents to take interest in indian art and culture and books,said thacker when i asked him whether this was a recent hobby of his. "no discos,no partying for us.with our small pocket money and guidance from our parents we would shop around for paintings from a very young day our parents gave us rs 200 to pick up one of k h ara's paintings. when we met ara he asked us to take any painting that we liked from a stack of canvasses that lay rolled up in a corner.we bought a painting of horses because we loved horses!(incidentally,there are some terrific paintings of horses in the exhibition) and that is how over the last forty years we have been able to collect all these paintings". when i asked him whether any of them were for sale, he said "sorry,i can't sell many of them because they are registered with the archaeological society of india(asoi). which means that it is 'heritage'. also to bring these paintings to the cymroza art gallery from my residence prior permission of asoi was required to be taken". according to dinesh thacker,how do you put a value on these paintings? there is really no benchmark. but since many of them are rare and brilliantly done,they are invaluable. in a way,i could make out that he was happy that he could not sell. they were too dear for him to part with. the art market now is on an upswing. modern art is the in-thing. but then historical art has its own beauty. our beautiful monuments,landscapes,festivals and various events in our urban and rural areas give our artistes an opportunity to remain in touch with our roots rathen than painting something abstract.when i said this to dinesh thakker,he couldn't agree more.

encouraged by pheroza godrej to exhibit their collection the media-shy couple finally agreed to have this exhibition.their collection runs into thousands of paintings and prints.some of the paintings like tipu sultan fighting the british,the queen's necklace seen at night from malabar hill,the churchgate surroundings before and after reclamation,etc caught my eyes.the attention to detail in the paintings was staggering.we live in a building constructed just before the second world war erupted.i was thrilled to spot our building in one of the prints on churchgate.

i left the hall clean bowled by the artistes.these europeans who came to india during those two hundred years of british rule have contributed enormously to our history through their paintings by keeping alive our old art and culture in public memory. some of the paintings of rural bengal are very vivid. the taj mahal, jamma masjid, dashasashvamedha ghat at benares, tanjore temple, trichy fort, gomukhi gangotri(the origin of ganga) makes you ponder how they went to these far off places in those days by bullock carts and horseback and painstakingly made such beautiful paintings for generations to see and appreciate.and three cheers to the thackers and the godrejs for exhibiting these priceless paintings to the general public. if i can get some free time over this weekend, i will go again and get lost,surrounded by these paintings which i will never forget.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

the jodhpur jaunt

the rajasthan calling is always irresistable. when i received an invitation for a wedding and three days of shaadi celebrations at jodhpur, i immediately decided to participate in the maujmasti of a modern indian wedding. i had met the bride in london along with my daughter and mumbai at their home on several occasions. so i convinced myself that there was enough justification to take a short holiday and make the best of my stay in jodhpur. for the first time in my long career,i even decided to skip a board meeting! for the fun and excitement of a jodhpur jaunt!

can i say that i thoroughly enjoyed my stay? that would be a bit of an understatement. it was exhilarating. the big and beautiful indian wedding was meticulously planned and executed to the nth degree of perfection. starting with the wedding cards which were artistically prepared and printed and the series of programmes-sangeet,mehndi,tambrahm wedding and sufi-on-the sands. each function was captivating and unforgettable. the venues were mehrangarh fort,balsamand palace gardens,umaid bhawan palace and the sand dunes at khimsar(about 100 kms from jodhpur).

"with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,she shall have music wherever she goes". "the swish of skirts,bangles tinkling to the beat, red henna on the hands and tapping of feet". "and there are those of us who believe in all those far off dreams,so trust in what you know, they can be golden dreams". "the lamps are different but the light is the same, it comes from beyond". with such poetic fantasies printed on the cards for each of the above functions, i knew i was going for a dream wedding.

jodhpur is the second largest city of rajasthan.referred to as the sun city as it has bright sunny weather throughout the year, it is also called blue city because it's houses around the mehrangarh fort are all whitewashed and have an indigo tinge. jodhpur has a population of around 1 was a major trading centre during the 16th century. the city is surrounded by a thick stone wall and it has eight huge was founded in 1459 by rao jodha,chief of the rathore clan of rajputs.hence the name jodhpur.the king made territorial gains and then formed the state of mewar.the jodhpur royal family enjoyed a good relationship with mughals excepting during the period of aurangazeb.the valour and equestrian skills of the royalty and their polo skills are legion.jodhpur is now also a military and airforce station and it has a large cantonement and has two railway stations.i stayed at hotel ghoomer which is located close to the high court.the bishnois and the famous chinkaras live quite close to the city."no animals where rajputs stay,only in the bishnoi areas,says a rajput."we have hunted them all down".the bishnoi concept created in 1451 with 29 principles(bees+noi).they bury their dead to avoid cutting trees.

the impressive mehrangarh fort is 5km long and perched at an altitude of 125 metres on a high hill. started by raja jodha,it was actually completed after 200 years sometime in the 17th century by raja jaswant singh.the walls of the fort are 100 ft high.within the fort are some magnificent palaces .the marvelously carved panels of mehrangarh fort and its latticed windows are astounding.there is a mix of mewar and mughal culture in the minature paintings of various schools,costumes and furniture displayed in the palaces.this was the venue of the sangeet programme.the ethnic richness of rajasthan was showcased in the form of various dances,quawalis,puppet shows and skits and lighting of fireworks in the evening.their passion and fervour struck the right chord.what came through was a unending zeal to keep their tradition alive.the aerial view of the mehrangarh fort taken by kite photographer nicolas chorier is awesome. the view of the city from the highest point in the fort was breathtaking.

the people of this clean city are friendly and they enjoy a fascinating lifestyle.the men and women dress impressively.the men in their coloured turbans and bandhgala jodhpuris and the women in their wide gathered skirts and hip length jackets are a pleasing sight to watch.the city is famous for its handicrafts.the tie and dye fabric,embroidered jutis(shoes),and lots of wooden dolls and artistically painted lounging chairs and other furniture add to the shopper's delight.metal utensils,glass bangles,cutlery and marble products add to the sheer variety of shopping items.and can you resist the temptation of the matharia red chillies?

the dance form has been perfected in is an aesthetic inebriation. swirls,acrobatics and hypnotic beats make the heady rajasthani dance timeless. flowing lehngas,fascinating moves,vibrant colours and a unique grace, elegance and tempo.these were sights which we had not seen. perhaps it was from a bygone era? or does the legacy of the various forms of rajasthani dance still continue in this fascinating state? in their unique manner these exhibit a high degree of zest and vivacity.interestingly, dance is an accepted part of rajasthani culture whether he is a king or a common man.some dances like the famous ghoomar(name of the hotel where i stayed) literally meaning ghoomna ,moving in circles,and gair,have been passed on from generation to generation.ghoomar involves ladies dancing in circular movements in their colourful lehengas and elegant hand movements.the gair dance traditionlly performed by men has women and men dancing in separate circles and going diagonally in loops.the beating of the drum match each turn in the dancer.the bam rasiya is another dance where men and women dance together in a circle often with sticks in hands like in dandiya.when tapped together,the clicking noises of the sticks give the beat.this is an easier dance than gair or ghoomar.the bhavai is another dance that is amazing.nine brass pots rest on the heads of the lady who moves her feet and arms elegantly and combines it with the swaying of the is not an easy dance.surely years of labour must have been required to dance this to perfection.the kathputli(puppet) dance are rajasthan-typical and accompanied with lots of singing and loud at that. they tell folklores of this wondorous state. many folk dances are also performed as rituals to appease the gods.

one of the popular functions these days in any wedding is the mehendi."mehndi laga ke rakhna". every young girl or lady make a beeline to the woman who applies this reddish paste which acts as a decoration,coolant,deodarant and astringent thanks to the properties of the henna leaves. and they go the bangles stall and pickup the best of glass bangles.the venue of this function was the balsamand lake and gardens.a beautiful lake built in 1159. a splendid summer palace stands impressively by the lake side with wonderful gardens around. we were all turbanated as soon as we arrived. headgear is an essential part of a man's is called pagari,pencha,sela or safa depending upon its size and style.we all sported safas.

the umaid bhavan palace which took 16 years to complete is an opulent has one million square feet of marble and is made of chittor gave employment then to a famine stricken population.the umaid bhavan palace is the last palace ever built in india.the story goes that maharaja umaid singh was a connosieur of western life and dear was it to him that he travelled to england in 1925 to search for a british architect to build his palace.three thousand artisans worked to create this stunning palace on 26 acres of land atop chittar hill designed personally by henry lanchester of the london firm lanchester and lodge. part indo-sarcenic and part art deco style,the hotel has 347 rooms of which 15 are suites.inside,the decor merges contemporary with classic due to the brilliant work of polish interior deisgner stefan noblin.the liveried porters made you feel at home and for every query there was a "jee,hukum".they add to the aura and even talk in english.the expanse is unbelievable.balconies,courtyards,gardens and palatial is now managed by taj hotels.though a part of the hotel remains as the royal residence of the erstwhile maharaja of jodhpur gaj singh II and his family.the royals of india lived a lavish lifestyle and exhibited a high and impressive standard of culture.whether jewellery,clothes or cars they represented the culture of their kingdom.their subjects don't lag far behind! doesn't everyone dream to dress and live like a king or a queen? the foyer of the palace hotel is the best one can see in any 5 star hotel. in the lawns outside the tambrahm wedding commenced in the early hours of the morning in a special marble mandap.there was a welcome nip in the air.

wandering minstrels and dancing girls alone do not make rajasthan. on the penultimate day of our stay,we did a 100 km to journey all the way to khimsar for a night to be spent listening to sufi songs.we drove by car, jeep and camel cart to reach the fringes of the thar desert and were awestruck by the huge sand dunes.the sufi songs were sole stirring.the octogenarian rana singh snag with gusto and he was accompanied by some very talented artistes playing mellifluously on their stringed was an unforgettable evening.

the rajasthani cuisine was thoroughly delicious and enjoyable throughout our stay. in particular the dal batti and churma,the jodhpuri kachoris and matharia mirchi.even now i smack my lips and recall the taste of the delightful food that we had in all the functions.ranging from rajasthani specialities to tambrahm delicacies cooked by special cooks flown in from hyderabad.the marriage rituals were performed in typical iyengar style and was appreciated by one and all.

rajasthan is a land of awesome forts,brilliant latticework carved in sandstone and kota stone,tye and dye fabric,lac jewellery and mirror work.beautiful dresses for men,women and children.can you ask for was like a huge one stop shoppe.
on the last day we shopped.picked up some tye and dye fabrics,quilts and even artistic chairs and lovely dolls of palace watchmen.leather slip-on jootis are a hugely popular buy.i could not resist the temptation.

the four days and nights were a continuum of chivalry and magnificence.but then,all good things must come to an dream visit,dream stay and the dream wedding will always be etched in my mind.i have touched only the tip of the iceberg.there are lots more to see and enjoy in rajasthan.udaipur,jaipur,chittorgarh and jaisalmer.and pushkar.perhaps soon i will go again.probably see rajasthan from the 'palace on wheels'. rajasthan is indeed incredible and irresistable.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

"i believe" by shiamak davar

we attended the first show of shiamak davar's "i believe" at the ncpa hall last monday. it was an overwhelming experience. produced by ms neeraja birla,chairperson,birla academy of art and culture,the show is about the human spirit which can be taken to lofty heights in spite of all obstacles. the philosophy behind the show is:-"i believe,so i can and i will". it is turning the mind into a positive state and channelising your energies to achieve your goals. constantly pushing yourself with the thought that nothing is impossible. taking inspiration from "the secret", this spectacular song and dance theatre extravaganza, directed,visualized and choreographed by shiamak davar was just outstanding to say the least. it was his offering to his family, his spirtual guide and to god almighty for the divine grace,love and support of the family and the confidence reposed in him by the birlas, shiamak said in his inaugural speech.

shiamak davar and the hollywood latin dance sensation katya virshilas in a pulsating two- hour thriller packed with 18 songs and accompanied by 250 dancers in sensational costumes were a treat to watch. fantastic visual effects, large animated puppets, two wide screens on either side of the stage, spectacular light projections and music that forces you to get up and rock. jazz,hiphop,bollywood,hollywood and latin. shiamak was leading his dancers all the way. he dedicated "because you loved me" to his mother.

it reminded me of the illuminating broadway shows. shiamak has indeed succeeded in reviving the dead theatre. in the 80s when he started his shows nobody believed in him and in his ability to project contemporary dance. it was his dream to become a guru in this field which he has now achieved.the av birla group believes that he is a world-class entertainer and neeraja birla, chairperson of the birla academy of art and culture, was convinced of shyamak's worth and decided to provide him the opportunity to showcase it.

it was a terrific show,full of fun,with many dancers coming up near the audience and dancing. on several occasions, many in the audience got up spontaneously and danced. the concert drew a full house. the dazzling display of colourfully costumed female dancers swinging along as shiamak crooned was a delight to watch. shiamak proved that his heart is in the right place by getting some mentally challenged children to dance,sing(kajra re) and even do some mental sums a la shakuntala devi.the children received a standing applause.

"i believe' is for everyone who loves the performing arts and to share the joy of life with one another.shiamak's success in realising his vision can be summarised in three latin words. vini.vidi,vici. i came,i saw,i conquered.

Friday, November 16, 2007

'jab we met'

i like shahid kapoor. he has a cherubic face. i like kareena too.for her acting abilities.and her looks. the chemistry between these two stars is electrifying.the pair has had several hits and 'jab we met' is no exception.the only sad part is that the relationship between these two bubbling youngsters has come to a stage when they would have said to each other 'ab we will not meet'. whether they will continue to act together is anybody's guess.

kareena dominates the entire movie.and she does it with absolute control over her dialogue(both punjabi and hindi) and her facial expressions and body language.plenty of punjabi 'baatcheet' and songs and dances 'a la bhangra '.all adding up to the fun and frolic.

for such a vivacious 'geet'(kareena kapoor) meeting a quiet sulken aditya(shahid kapoor) on a train was a big dampener to begin with.she would talk nineteen to the dozen.he would just keep quiet and frustrate her. was he dumb? "kya problem hai yaar, yeh to bolo". silence. son of a wealthy businessman from mumbai,aditya was in love.his girlfriend ditches him and marries another man. aditya attends the marriage reception and is shattered to see her alongwith her husband. brokenhearted he gets into the first train he sees. he sits and closes his eyes.when he opens his eyes he sees this talkative girl seated opposite him.she is headed home for bhatinda in punjab. her continuous chatter derails him.he runs away not able to tolerate someone disturbing his space and peace which is what he is looking for after being letdown by his girl friend. but geet wouldn't leave him. she gets off the train to get him back but the train has by then left. the two are now together.destiny has brought them in each other's company.

aditya opens up.she finds out the reason for aditya's stunning him simple advice.take your girlfriend's photo,burn it and throw it into the trashcan.that is what she deserves.aditya,though for a moment shocked, does exactly that and finds himself relieved of all the baggage and free and happy. geet has a problem too.she has a boyfriend in shimla called anshuman(Tarun arora). aditya helps geet to run away to her boyfriend.

aditya is a changed man.he plays the guitar in office and leads his father's company to glorious heights(his father has deserted the company and run away with his secretary). anshuman is only fooling around with geet.he has no plans to marry her as he is afraid of his family who will not accept a sardarin. it was great fun watching the geet they react when geet returns home,their surprise seeing aditya,then accepting him for responsibly handing over geet,then later aghast that both of them have run away together(not knowing that aditya has taken geet to shimla) and feeling fooled and backstabbed. geet's brother locates aditya in mumbai and threatens him with dire consequences if geet is not returned.finally aditya tells them that he will get geet back and hand her over to them within a fortnight.

after being ditched by anshuman and unable to show her face to her parents,geet joins a missionary school in shimla and starts life anew as a class teacher. aditya locates her and takes her to anshuman. anshuman is now willing and they go to bhatinda together.then a big comedy of error starts.the sardarji family automatically assume that aditya and geet are together and start making marriage arrangements.geet also has fallen in love with aditya.she willy nilly allows the confusion to continue. anshuman is left in the cold.he becomes desperate."jab we met' reaches an expected finale.anshuman is out.aditya is in.the patriarch(dara singh) of geet's family is happy and keeps on saying "didn't i say from the first day i saw them that these too are in love and are putting up a drama all the time?" he proved to be right. the only difference was that aditya tried hard to get geet and anshuman together.but it was not to be.destiny had other plans.

imtiaz ali has directed the movie well.the first half is almost the second half he loses his way somewhat.having said that,it does not in anyway reflect on his directorial skills.

kareena has done a superb job.she is going to snatch all the awards for her 10/10 performance.she deserves it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

gangasnanam aaccha?

this is the question a tambrahm gets on his telephone from friends and relatives far and wide on deepavali day at the crack of dawn.those who call earlier earn brownie points.they get up early,apply some coconut oil on their heads,wash it off under a shower with shikakai powder and emerge clean, washing off all their past sins. and why not? have they not taken a bath symbolically in the mighty and majestic ganga? they are now ready to take life's challenges with a clean slate. and their friend,a bit apologetic,if he/she has not performed the ablutions yet,would answer that it is going on. and both would have a hearty laugh.

deepavali is the festival of symbolises the defeat of darkness by light.the removal of ignorance with knowledge.celebrating the return of lord rama to ayodhya,the population welcomed him with diyas on both sides of the pathway.that is the meaning of deep+vali.rows of lighted fact, the whole city of ayodhya was ablaze with lights and with deafening noise of crackers when lord rama arrived after vanquishing ravana. celebration is a way of life in india.we wish for heath and wealth.for us and for others.we pray for embrace those around us with kindness.and to shed light on the lives of the havenots.

after donning new clothes kept in the pujaroom overnight, partaking of 'lehiyam',a concoction prepared to put your stomach in order to enable you to consume lots of sweet preparations,one goes for the kill.mysore pak,terattipaal,janghiri and badushah.(we got some of the sweets from sri krishna sweets,chembur this year) .the women in the house have already drawn images and figures on the floor of the main entrance to the house,which add colour and vibrancy to the festival.called rangoli or alpana or kolam they create a magical piece of is considered a holy ritual not to be missed out.even muslims and parsis decorate their entrances with rangoli and diya.the designs generally are geometric in shape.circles,triangles,etc.images of flowers,creepers etc are also made. om symbol,swastika,footsteps of goddess lakshmi are drawn using paste of ricegrains,turmeric poder,vermillion powder etc.

the jain community of india celebrate deepavali as a new year's day.lord mahavira,the founder of jainism,attained his nirvana on the day of deepavali.sikhs celebrate deepavali to commemorate the return of the sixth guru to amritsar in 1620.alongwith 52 hindu kings,the guru was imprisoned by emperor aurangazeb.the guru when granted freedom refused to leave. he insisted that all the 52 kings be released.emperor aurangazeb agreed.this is one festival which brings together people from different faiths and communities to share their joy and to generate a feeling of brotherhood and religious harmony.