Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mumbai Mehfil

This Christmas we had what can only be described as a shaam-e-mehfil. Pramod invited a bunch of his work colleagues, and we sat down to an evening of song and music.

There was wine (and whisky and rum and vodka)

And food... 

And lots of laughs 

I was the only female in this group of 12 guys. But miraculously, in the entire evening, the sacred words "Sachin Tendulkar" came up only once. Amazing, no? :)

As I looked back and wondered why, I realised that the real star of the evening was the music itself. The mehfil lasted 4 hours, and we played so many "oldies-goldies" that it was quite magical. Pramod brought his harmonica and played a song for us. I don't think I even realised how time flew until someone looked at the clock and announced that it was 1 in the night. 

Here's my pick from the evening: Kahe ko roye (why cry?) from the movie Aradhana. I haven't been able to get it out of my head all day long. The absolutely stunning lyrics of the song are here, in case any of you are interested. 
Safal hogi teri....aradhana....kahe ko roye
Kahee pe hai sukh kee chhaya, kahee pe hai dukhon kaa dhoop
Bura bhala jaisa bhi hai, yahi toh hai bagiya kaa roop
Phulon se, kanto se, mali ne haar piroye
Kahe ko roye....

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Diary of Riaz Samadhan @ The Museum Art Gallery, Mumbai

- By Deepa Krishnan

I don't really follow the contemporary Indian art scene.

But the very first thing that struck me about Riaz Samadhan's current showing (The Diary of Riaz Samadhan) is his refined sensibility. As soon as I stepped into The Museum Art Gallery, I knew this artist's sense of aesthetics was something that personally appealed to me.

Painting titled "Beauty lies in wholeness".
There is a bed of dried leaves strewn on the floor of the entire gallery. The whole effect looks really good, doesn't it?

Then I took some time to really see his work, and I found myself liking it more and more. He has a perceptive sensitivity about people, about the nature of things; and he combines that with a non-sentimental, restrained but rich way of expressing it.

For example, see this one, called Perception Diptych. As soon as you see it, you sort of mentally slow down and look deeper. On the black half of the diptych, the line drawing of the house invites you to see the inner dimensions of the man. On the other half, there is a farm, trees, perhaps this is how this person views himself, perhaps it is an accurate self-perception, but perhaps it is not. Perhaps the man cannot see all of it?

Painting titled "Perception Diptych".
As you can see, there's a lot going on, but the execution is disciplined and simple. There is no overstatement. I would have liked to buy this for my house, but suspect that I cannot afford it :) :)

Here is a view of the Museum Art Gallery; you can see how Riaz has used the gallery space. The centre installation has a set of daily objects. I'm guessing that each object is a memory from Riaz's personal "Diary", things that have meaning for him. The objects are displayed on a stand; the stand is set in a bed of leaves strewn on the entire gallery floor.

Gallery view with leaves on floor

I figured that apart from the objects, the leaves themselves - the dry rustling sound and the rich woody smell - were evocative of some personal memories for Riaz, and wondered what they were. Of course, modern "good manners" forbid you from asking such personal questions, but I would have dearly liked to know!

Standing in that air-conditioned room, smelling the fragrance of the dried leaves, taking in the aesthetic appeal of the was a short but sweet treat for the senses. Thank you, Riaz Samadhan, for sharing your Diary :)

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Paris-Bombay Chanel Show - I like the glitz!

- By Deepa Krishnan

The Indian press has been writing scathing comments about Karl Lagerfeld and his rose-tinted view of India; but really, he's produced some neat stuff for a new India-inspired Chanel show.

The show is called the Paris-Bombay Metiers d'Art (meaning Paris-Bombay Crafts and Art). And while it is a pretty good homage to Indian textile and jewellery craft; it has a modern look that gives it global appeal. Most important, a lot of it is actually wearable. Which is more than can be said for the usual nonsense that passes off as high fashion.

Take this one for example, lovely soft drape, evocative of the saree, but such a beautiful outfit. My friend Sheetal who is tall and leggy would look fantastic in this. Me, alas, I'm too short and - let's face it - too dumpy - to even dream of wearing this.

Photos from; they have a great set of photos in case you want to have a look

I like the jewellery, do you? Absolutely fantastic stuff that works very well with the bejwelled collars and the Shiva-inspired dreadlocks!! :) Looks like it was crafted in India, doesn't it? It isn't. Apparently it was all fashioned in the Chanel ateliers in Paris.

Here's another totally gorgeous blue saree-inspired outfit. But really, it's that silver tribal-looking belt across the shoulder that gives it that incredible look. I wish I had a bigger photo, so you could see the ghungroo-like detail on that shoulder-belt.

The gauzy transparent fabric reminds me of the story about Emperor Aurangazeb's daughter. Apparently Aurangazeb reprimanded his daughter for appearing nearly naked in public; only to discover that she was wearing fine chanderi; a mix of cotton and silk so fine that it was almost sheer. Only after she wore seven layers of it was he satisfied. The model above has no such father to please! :)

If you want to see the show, check out the show trailer on youtube. You'll be surprised at how wearable everything is. There are lots of kameez-churidar inspired pieces and skirts wrapped like dhotis. Flat sandals (that have been so popular in Linking Road!) have also made an appearance, with lots of embellishment. There are several day-wear outfits; skirts and jackets, trousers, etc. All of them have interesting Indian accents - but it is the evening wear and bling that I really like a lot.

The stuff will be in Chanel stores in May 2012, I'm told. Not that I will ever buy anything from this line, ever. The prices are eye-wateringly high :)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chor Bazaar again!

- By Deepa Krishnan

Among the most fun things you can do on a Sunday is go to Chor Bazaar.

I went with Walt and Mary, a couple of fun Canadians, and they were great company. In the past they owned retail stores, so they understood the pleasure of pottering around looking for great finds.

The two photos below are from a shop that does "sets" for Hindi movies. Everything is over-the-top and glitzy, and would be perfect in scenes with grand villas and sweeping staircases!

Hah! Look at that lion! I can imagine a villainous Amrish Puri standing in some haveli with tiger-skins on the wall and his hand on the lion's head while a poor peasant trembles nearby :) And the marble fountain splashes water in the background.

Should I have brought those two little marble dogs home? I certainly could not have brought the rather grand-looking lions!

Apart from the marble stuff, there are lots of old posters, old metal biscuit tins, boxes of cigarettes, and other stuff that you simply don't see these days.

Is it just me or do you love this 'Little Stuff' shop too? It's like a magnet, no? It is very tempting to bring some of it home. Last time I went, I brought three brass milk-cans home, in three sizes, to arrange in a row.

I was quite taken with this poster of a wicked-looking Pran from the 1971 movie Adhikaar. Check out the video here. Pran is "Banne Khan Bhopali", a lipstick-wearing flamboyant singer. The hero of the movie is Ashok Kumar, and the plot involves an illegimate child and lots of misunderstandings. Ah, the seventies!

I simply can't get enough of this stuff. I'm going back again another day, of course! Anyone want to come with me?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Perfect Balance

- By Aishwarya Pramod

My college, like a lot of other schools and colleges, organizes a ‘Traditional Day’ every year – a day when everybody dresses up in ‘traditional’ clothes, dances, eats good food and takes lots of pictures.

So why have a Traditional Day? Is it to celebrate our varied traditions? OK, that seems like a legitimate reason, but honestly I don’t know if it makes complete sense or not. Traditions change, some die out, and new ones are created through foreign influences and local changes. There are a lot of girls (including me) who combine jeans with T-shirts/western-style tops on some days, and kurtas on other days. Guys dress Western style, and wear kurtas less often than the girls. And on top of that, most people speak English 70-80% of the time, including outside classes (though this is only true of my college, not necessarily others).

Sometimes Traditional Day just seems like an easy way to assuage the guilt we feel about being so Westernized. Living in Mumbai, we’re disconnected from the lives of the millions of Indians in rural and semi-rural areas. But ‘the heart of India is its villages’ - we get bombarded with this message all the time. So we want in on that too. Sometimes I feel like Urban Indian Guilt is similar to The Great White Guilt :) subtly filled into us through overt and subliminal media messages and societal expectations.

What’s the solution? Celebrating our traditions, by clinging on to saris and salwar kameezes that we don’t really wear otherwise?

Well, alright, it’s not even as if *I* know the solution to our East vs. West confusion; in fact, Traditional Day maybe a good solution for some. It’s not Traditional Day that bothers me but the attitude that accompanies it, the comfortable “I’m in touch with my roots and therefore better than you” smugness. The whole “I’ve found the perfect balance between tradition and modernity with my strapless saree blouse and sexy heels” is simply ridiculous. Priyanka Chopra in Dostana spends the entire movie in shorts or little dresses and then suddenly in a (rather pointless) song sequence, she emerges as the 'Desi' girl. So much like Traditional Day, OMG.

All of us in India (and for that matter the developing world) are constantly faced with the choice of east vs. west, tradition vs. ‘modernity’. And each of us makes different choices in response to this, based on our family background, upbringing, media influence, peer group, conscious choice, etc. And every individual’s choice is okay by me.

Let me finally clarify what exactly I’m getting at:
There is no need to be either proud or ashamed.

I know people who wear western clothes 90% of the time, hardly speak in Hindi (or other Indian language), whose values are completely western; I know people at the other end, who are completely traditional and perfectly happy about it. And I know a bunch of people in the middle of these two extremes. All these choices are perfectly valid.

When I was 13, I went to camp. We were speaking to a camp instructor about our mother tongues and when he found out I wasn’t fluent in my father’s family’s language, Kannada, he immediately proceeded to tell me I should learn it and it was really sad and shameful I didn’t know it and that we should uphold our traditions and culture lest they die out.

Well. Firstly, culture is not a static concept that needs to be preserved or for that matter even can be preserved permanently. What I am today is the result of my upbringing – I was brought up near my mother’s family, so I speak Tamil. I’m not going to go out of my way to learn Kannada, just to ‘preserve’ culture. Instead, I’m the daughter of a Palakkad-Tamil mother and a Kannadiga father living in Mumbai who knows Tamil, Hindi, English and a smattering of Kannada.

And secondly, O venerable camp instructor, what about the fact that you’re wearing a shirt and trousers at the moment? How would you like it if someone came and told you you should be wearing kurta-pyjama and that you were helping destroy our culture? No, wait, not even kurta-pyjama, it should be angvastram-dhoti. :) I’m not judging YOU, am I? So please extend the same courtesy to me.

(I didn’t actually say any of these things to him, I just mumbled something and looked sheepish.)

So even though it’s all supposed to be relative, we all get judged every day. Either we’re too westernized and not ‘Indian’ enough, or we’re too ‘ghaati’ and not modern enough. I think this just reflects our lack of empathy. We don't want to understand others; we want to hang on to our little value judgements and preferences and impose them on others.

Sorry about this rant; for all its length it probably isn’t very coherent. That’s because my own thoughts on tradition and western influence aren’t very well formed. If there’s one thing I think I’ve conveyed clearly, it’s my confusion. Also, in the article I’ve focused on being judged for not being ‘rooted’ enough but there’s probably even more judgement on the other side – in certain circles, not being Westernized enough is social suicide.

I guess that’s what writing your opinion on the internet is all about, isn’t it? Putting your thoughts out there so anyone who wants to can berate the hell out of you. Oh well :)

Saturday, October 08, 2011

How to Buy a Saree Blouse

- By Deepa Krishnan

If you're female and Indian, there's one absolutely essential skill you must learn: how to buy the perfect blouse for a saree.

The Matching Centre is where you learn the ropes. It's almost a rite of passage, really.

My mom and sister, entering the Matching Centre

In the early days, when you enter the Matching Centre, you're filled with a gnawing, groping uncertainty about what to buy. So many shades to choose from! How can there be *that* many shades of green? And which of those is best for my saree? Should I buy a blouse the colour of the main saree? Or should it be maroon, the colour of the saree's border? If I buy the green will it also work for that *other* saree, the one that aunt gifted me? Two-by-Two or Cotton? 80 cms or 1 metre? Should I get lining for this blouse? Will it be see-through? Will this colour run? Will silk be too hot? Aaarrgh. A million questions, plaguing the rookie blouse-buyer.

See how difficult it is?

But then, just as you lose all hope, help emerges - and it's usually in the form of an unassuming guy with an unerring eye for colour. Every Matching Centre has this miracle guy, with a quiet manner, who will take your saree from your hands, find the *perfect* fabric with the *perfect* shade of grey or green or whatever. All you have to do is stand there with a grateful expression, and fork out the money.

Mr. Know-it-all-but-will-never-get-cheeky-about-it

As time goes along, you become more confident. You find yourself saying somewhat firmly "Two-by-two will do just fine, thank you". "No, I do NOT think that's the perfect shade. It needs a little more purplish-brinjalish-rani-pink, really." At this point in your life, you will find even older aunts turning to you and asking, "Deepa, do you think this blue shade is ok?". And you step in, inspect the fabric critically, and say "Uh-uh. Nope. Not sky-blue enough. It's got to have more white in it. See that piece? Fourth from the left? That's the one you need". If you're proved right, and that indeed is the right shade of sky-blue, you feel a wave of confident smugness that nothing can quite beat!

But is that all? Of course not. The goal (ahem) is to get to the point where you actually find yourself expressing your personality through the blouse you buy. What? You didn't know? Yep. The saree blouse is all about personality, baby :)

And how does one express personality? By going beyond the plain single-colour blouses, of course. You have to start using patterns and borders and coordinating them with your sarees - with just that little edgy difference to keep it from becoming boring. You'll buy some disastrous stuff in the beginning - but eventually you'll get there.

Some ghastly prints and some good ones

A nice but small selection of Maharashtrian khun

I bought this black and red one, to wear with a red Fab India saree.

Over time, you end up acquiring a set of printed blouses; and various combinations of plain sarees to wear with them.
Small part of my blouse collection!

And some sarees that I team them up with

I like this purple and ochre cotton saree; and this blouse with slightly different but similar shades looks very good when worn with it.

And *then* as you start to experiment, as you start to mix and match and reconfigure your wardrobe, people stop saying "Hey, nice saree!" and start saying "Hey, nice combo!".

That, my friend, is how you know you have arrived in Blouse Heaven. When they start noticing the blouse fabric, you've done it. You've finally cracked the Art of Buying A Saree Blouse.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Why I love the Ganesh Festival visarjan

- By Deepa Krishnan

Today I went with my camera to get photos of Ganesh Visarjan.

I saw a lot of little things that arrested my attention, and I wondered why, inspite of living here all my life, I hadn't noticed these things earlier.

So this post is going to be a series of photos, titled I LOVE GANESH VISARJAN BECAUSE...

Because coming out to see Visarjan is the beginning of a tradition, grandfather to grandson.

Because only at Visarjan you can see a Mumbai-ki-chokri, dancing in abandon, taking the idol to the sea. When she dances, the world stops!

Because the rain makes the ecstatic drumming even more incredible.

Because the joy is very real - and not necessarily alcohol induced.

Because at some point, you'll always see the women doing fugdi :) :)

Because a little rain (or a lot of it!) doesn't mean a damn. People will line up for hours on the roads to wait and watch the processions.

Because Mumbai's upscale folks also celebrate this festival, they don't turn their noses at it. And it's great fun to go pandal-hopping and gawk at the gorgeous huge idols.

Because there are small family Ganpatis, not just big ones. This family of murtikaars have had a Ganesh in their home for 75 years.

Because there is pride and joy in decorating your own small thela

Because not everyone makes murtis of plaster! This is a clay murti.

Because children always get the best seats in the house :)

Because the shiny toy-sellers come out, and for one evening, Mumbai feels like a Rai Bareilly :)

Because you can hear kids refusing to get off the ferris-wheel even after the ride is over

Because the Mewad Ice-cream Man is not on holiday, and rain or no rain, you can eat ice-cream if you want.

Because basically, you can quite easily ignore the Elephant God and pretty much do your own thing if you want!! :)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dharavi Photos: Colours of Ramzan

- by Deepa Krishnan

Aishwarya and I went to Dharavi today, to meet some women who make papads. It was around 4:00 p.m., when we walked through one of the main bazaar areas. The street stalls were just beginning to be set up, with food for the evening iftar.

I could not believe the colour of the falooda packets that I saw - a pink so lurid that it would put all other pinks to shame :)

Amidst the lurid pink, were reds, oranges, yellows and greys

Foreground: Yellow Papayas
Behind: The falooda-man making take-home packets

The faloodas are really popular, so the vendor spends the afternoon tying them into little packets. In the evening, when the crowds assemble, he will have no time to do anything but hand over the packets (and count money)! Every few minutes, burkha-clad women would walk by and buy some to take home.

After the electric colours, the pale greens and muted yellows of the melons were very calming.

Just looking at these soft shades makes you feel cooler

Pineapples had been neatly peeled and the prickly bits had been taken out.

Pale yellow with dark green tops

Pomegranates add an exotic dash of maroon-pink to the fruits on sale. A mix of these fruits, sprinkled with chaat powder, will make a tangy, sweet way to break the fast.

Teen ka kitna? Lady in burkha taking three pomegranates home.

To add volume at low cost, bananas are added to the fruit chaat.

Ripe yellow with only vestiges of green

As if all this wasn't enough, watermelons and apples provide more colour!

There were lots of food stalls too, just beginning to be set up. The onion pakodas and kala-chana chaat counters were in place.

Adding orange and brown to the color-mix!

Usually the kala chana chaat is decorated with sliced tomatoes, and garnished with green coriander and lemon, but because it was early in the day, the presentation wasn't fully ready. But you can imagine it, can't you? :)

I saw people at little restaurants hard at work, setting up great big handis of mutton biryani, with coloured rice. At some counters, jalebis were being fried and dunked in sugar syrup. I couldn't see any of the famous kababs or indeed, any meat on hot griddles (tawas)...perhaps the griddles would only come later around sundown.

The chicken shops and meat shops were doing brisk business. This butcher stopped his thaka-thak-thwack for a little while to give me a smile.

Impressive heavy knife, making dull sounds on wooden meat counter. (Little bits of gristle would fly every time the knife came down. Not good for my vegetarian soul!)

These little boys had set up neem datoon stall.

Chewing the twigs releases chemicals in the plant that can kill bacteria and reduce the build up of plaque on the teeth. The neem datoon counters also sold lemons. I liked the contrast between the two colours, but couldn't understand why all the datoon stalls also sold lemons. Do you know? Is it because neem is bitter?

Meswak or Siwak is also used for cleaning teeth
(and tastes much, much nicer than neem!)

After the walk through the bazaar, we met some women, who were papad makers, to find out more about their life (material for another post perhaps!). By the time we finished chatting, another couple of hours had passed. We walked back through inside lanes to where the car was parked.

Because we came through residential twisting lanes, I didn't realize how much the bazaar area would transform in a couple of hours.

The crowd was incredible.

Our car in a sea of humanity
We inched further ahead, and found that the road was impossibly jammed with people. A handcart trundled to our left, piled high with suitcases (manufactured in Dharavi). As far as eye could see, the road was full of people.

We decided to stoically inch further ahead

By this time, I was standing with my entire torso outside the Innova, photographing the road :) It was quite an experience, actually, watching the crowd stream past, all intent on reaching home in time for prayer.

"Press walon ki gaadi hai" was the murmur in the crowd
(it's my new DSLR camera - everyone thinks I'm a professional! Whereas I can only point and click!).

After about 20 minutes of going through the dense crowd, we finally came out on the main road. I would have liked to get down and photograph the evening iftar meal. But it would have meant waiting for at least another 45 minutes. We were tired, it had been a long day already and I simply wasn't ready to jostle for photos. Besides, I had really enjoyed watching the lead up to the evening meal, and the ability to photograph all the vendors when they weren't going crazy dealing with the iftar rush.

I'm glad I could bring back these photos and post them. Hope you enjoyed them!