Sunday, December 25, 2011

Purple Night Dress

It shimmers in the faint light that seeps in from beneath the closed doors.
Its touch is like flowers, like clouds, like breath, and it clings and slips
and makes you feel quite queen-like.

You comb your hair a hundred times and you brush your teeth.
You wash your face with the posh, age-defying face wash
and you step out of your soft fur slippers.

In a smooth, royal movement, your stately frame
struts towards your queen-sized bed
with its shiny sheets, covers and pillowcases.

You lift the covers and crawl deep into their velvetty recesses
and, then, all dressed up in your purple night dress
with pink polka dots
you turn on to your side towards
a blank white wall.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Meet the Street - Bhai Mian, the God Father of Kite Flying

You do not meet someone who has followed his passion throughout his life every day. So November 27, 2011 was really special in the fact that I had the opportunity of meeting Bhai Mian and his son Jamal who have spent years making and flying kites all over the world. Bhai Mian is 85 years old now and his movement is severely restricted because of Diabetes. And this was the reason why the person who had put me in touch with Jamal had woefully predicted that probably I'll not be able to meet the national awardee at all. In fact, according to him, I would be lucky to get to meet his son in person. But when I called Jamal on his mobile, he agreed to meet me at his place in the famous Delhi 6.

Full of anticipation, I and my photographer friend followed Jamal through the labyrinthine lanes of old Delhi. This was the first time I was going to enter a home in Old Delhi and the prospects were exciting me to no end. My imagination had run wild and I had painted various pictures of the supposed abode of the great man but I was in for a surprise. One unique thing about the buildings in Delhi 6 is that often when you are standing in the street, you can't look up and guess how many stories the building houses. Soon we stood in the dark staircase leading up to the residential quarters of Bhai Mian and his family. Gradually our eyes adjusted themselves and we were politely escorted by Jamal to a room where daris had been laid out to make for a comfortable seating arrangement. And to our delights, soon the God Father of Kite-Flying, Bhai Mian himself entered the room. We couldn't have asked for more. Misty-eyed, he fondly recalled his active years and, humbly pushed aside all requests to talk about the National Award he's received or the Record for which his name is registered in the Limca Book of World records with a simple "Awards to milte hain bachche, magar apne haathon se patang bana kar, us par kanne kas kar, udhaane ka jo mazaa hai, uska koi muqabala hai?"

He recounted his experience of flying kites in various countries such as in The Dubai Shopping Festival in 1993 where he flew a train of 1184 kites and at the Kite-flying competition at India-Pakistan Border to celebrate the 50 years of Independence. He vehemently maintains that Indian Kites are the best in spite of the active Chinese intrusion in Indian Kite Markets. "China ki patangon mein balance nahin hota. Indian patangein ungliyon ke ishaare par naachti hain." His opinion, in fact, is shared by many others both in India and abroad that the Indian Kite is the ultimate fighting machine.

Passion and creativity has driven this man, whose family business is Jewellery making, ever since he was a child and he has made kites in all shapes and sizes. His smallest kite 2mm long and the biggest being 400 feet in length. He takes pride in his collection of carefully crafted kites shaped to look like a peacock, a snake, various birds, and animals. His endeavour to better his previous acheivement stems from an insatiable desire to do something that has never been done before. "Koi cheez aisee udayen jo sab dekhen to kahein ki yeh to pehli baar udte hue dekhi hai."

The family has lovingly preserved some special kites for years. Some of the oldest kites that they proudly showcase are over 50 years old. There are others that they treat as works of art and are not willing to sell at any cost. Jamal fondly remembers one particular time when he was sitting at his counter at the Craft Museum and carefully constructing a minute, few mm long kite. A gentleman was oberving each of his artistic touches carefully. And once the kite was ready, the gentleman offered to purchase it. Jamal politely declined saying that he could have any one of the other kites if he wanted but this particular kite wasn't for sale. But the gentleman was adamant and he kept on increasing the amount he was ready to pay for the kite. But Jamal wouldn't budge. The Gentleman then approached one of the managers of the Craft Museum to request Jamal to see the kite. Jamal then presented the kite to the gentleman as a gift. "Kuch cheezon ki keemat aankna aasaan nahin hota." The gentleman not only accepted the gift but also bought some kites from Jamaal that were actually up for sale.

Not only have Bhai Mian and his sons been making and flying kites, they've also been conducting kite making and flying workshops for school-children and even for the adults. Despite our fear that the popularity of kites might be on a decline in India, Bhai Mian is ever an optimist. He argues that till children are enthusiatic about kite-flying, we have nothing to fear. Kite flying is an art and, like one does in other sports, one has to take time and learn the art. On one 15th August, when Bhai Mian was still a child, his father advised him not to tie kanne of all the kites he was planning to fly at once. But being an impatient child, he still went ahead and did that and started flying the kites. Soon all his kites were lost in kite-cutting battles and he was left without any more kites to fly. His father generously bought him another batch and sat him down and talked to him. "Ek baar mein ek hi patang ke kanne baandho. Phir jab woh kat jaye to doosri patang ke kanne baandhte hue socho ki tumhari patang kyon kati. Aur phir doosri udaao." Isn't this the technique that we should be employing in everything that we do? So much of wisdom is all around us and we never ever tap it simply because we do not care to talk to each other. 

We talked about many more miscellaneous things about Kite Museums, material used to make kites, Kite Flying festivals and purani dilli in general. We also visited the workshop they make kites and jewellery in, on the thirds floor of their home. And on the terrace, we visited their pigeon coup that is the home of 100s of their pet pigeons and talked about how the homing pigeons find their homes. 

Bhai Mian is now retired and usually leaves all kiting to his sons, Jamal and his brothers. At night, he can sleep peacefully because he knows that his tenaciously built legacy is safe in his sons' expert hands.

In the 2 hours that we spent at their place, we were touched by their hospitality and their trust. Bhai Mian and Jamal and even the children of their family opened their hearts to us and made us feel welcome. From practically being the outsiders in Delhi 6, we were now a part of the ecosystem and felt that we were being entrusted with the deep-rooted secrets of this enigmatic place where people like Bhai Mian live humble, unassuming, and unpretentious lives. These are the people who you pass every time you stroll through the streets of Delhi 6 and never ever realize how much they've acheived in their lives and how much our society owes to them. 

It was a pleasure once again to Meet the Street. Soon we will meet a security guard who considers the security of each member of the residential society he's stationed at as his personal responsibility. The purpose of this project is to bring to light the people you are likely to run into on the streets of Delhi and the project does not discriminate based on gender, age, social status, financial status, and anything else for that matter.      

Monday, November 14, 2011

Meet the Street - Daleep Singh turned 40 yesterday!

Daleep Singh has been driving autorickshaws on Delhi roads since 1993. Born and brought up in Delhi, he has seen the starting prices of a ride in the auto rise from Rs 3 to Rs. 20 now. Nowadays, he and his auto can be found plying between Central Secretariat Metro Station and India Gate. Though he's happy this way, he prefers to take tourists on Day-long trips around Delhi during which he shows them India Gate, Qutb Minar, Humanyun's Tomb, Rashtrapati Bhawan and almost all other monuments of Delhi. He earns about Rs. 1000 - 1500 for this kind of a trip.

It was his birthday on Saturday November 12th and he turned 40 that day.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

When Hanuman and Taj Mahal Took Over the Delhi Sky- Delhi Kite Festival

Yes, Lord Hanuman and Taj Mahal were hovering over the Delhi sky and no one was surprised. Yes, no one! Why? Because it was the first ever Kite Festival organized by Delhi Tourism. And Hanuman and Taj Mahal were just two of the many unusual shapes that had conquered the Delhi sky today. Kite flying enthusiasts from many parts of India headed to India Gate to unravel the strings and to let their kites soar. Never before in India have I seen such unique collection of kites even though the tradition of kite flying has been a part of our culture since the time of Krishna. And, to be honest, I was expecting to see more. Lord Hanuman, Taj Mahal, and the Smiley were the only ones that were truly unique at least while I was there. But since this was the first day, perhaps I am being too harsh.

Gaining entry into the festival was surprisingly hassle-free and in spite of VIP presence, the participants and visitors did not feel restricted in any way.
The Festival was inaugurated today by the Chief Minister of Delhi, Smt. Sheila Dikshit, who opened the festival by flying the first kite of the event. After the Chief Minister's opening note, Shayar Mirza Asif enlightened the crowd with some interesting history and patang-related shayari in his speech titled "Dastan-e-Patang". And after that, the band Soul Samvaad performed Mausiki-e-Patang to a very excited and supportive crowd that swayed to the tunes of their Patang Song. The sound system was not the best though and could've been better.

"Jab bhi hawa ke rukh se jo hat gayi patang.
Ya to giri zameen par, ya kat gayi patang."

The Pavilion displayed some interesting designs from Delhi, Rampur, and Jodhpur. Most of the designs displayed there are not actually sold during 15 August Kite Frenzy but are reserved for festivals. There were several kites with traditional Rajasthani prints in the Jodhpur stall. Femira, who was manning the Jodhpur Stall, shed some lights on those. "10 se 20 rupaiye tak mein bikti hain yeh Jodhpur mein." That sounded really inexpensive. If those kites were sold in Delhi, they would cost at least  50 each. I hope many more States and regions join the festival from the next time. It'll be nice to see kites from across India flying in the Delhi skies.
Anyways, moving on, I spotted the Delhi Tourism Stall. They were giving out pamphlets related to tourist spots in Delhi, Maps, and Posters, all free of cost. Mr. Brij Mohan and Mr. Anil Gupta who were managing the stall were polite and eager to offer information about the stall and the festival. I felt that the stall could sell some merchandise such as fridge magnets, pens, post cards, stamps, mugs, and T-shirts etc. They would have found some buyers for sure.

The festivities had started by now and patangbaazs were struggling to get their kites to take off. Kite fliers were there alone, with friends, or with their families. It was a bit congested and a bit more space for each flier would've been useful. There were several people like me who were there as spectators. Meanwhile expert kite fliers designated by Delhi Tourism held on to 150 kites each and steered them easily according to the direction of the wind. These kites were really heavy and when I tried holding one, the string almost managed to lift me from the ground and that is by no means an easy task. Mohammad Sufran, one of the kite flier who was holding and steering these kites told me "Sabse oopar waali kite ko hawa ke hisaab se sambhaalna padta hai" when I asked him whether he could tie the string somewhere and give his arms a rest. "Humein to yeh pakad ke hi khada hona padega." Commendable!
Kites were also being sold at the venue and if you were tempted to fly one yourself, you could purchase kites of all sizes and participate.

By this time, the food stalls by R. K. Caterers were also open. The quintessential Gol-Gappes, Aloo-Tikkis, Pav-Bhajis, Chowmein, Papdi-Chaats were all being sold at prices almost at par with the rest of the market. The stalls looked clean and hygienic. 
I came back during lunch though there were many more things planned for the day such as a magic show, a kite-cutting competition, a mini Dilli Haat, and some cultural programmes.

Delhi Tourism promises to have this festival annually along with many other new initiatives. I feel that this is a good move. Such activities will not only rejuvenate our fading traditions but will also help in encouraging tourists to visit Delhi. To the slogan "Delhi raises its spirit with kite flying", I can only say "Amen!"

The festival is not over yet. You can still be a part of it tomorrow from 11 – 8. Hopefully, your experience will be as exhilarating as mine.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Diwali - We Love the Complexity (Article Published in TOI Jammu)

Many of us may not have seen those days and some might even find it hard to believe that those days existed. But, yes, there was a time when light strings were hardly used. A lot more candles and diyas were used instead. Decorations consisted of a simple rangoli made of rice paste, a “Happy Diwali” sign cut out of card board, and paper lanterns crafted at home.  And even sweets were made at home. Diwali must have meant a lot more hard work back then.
Things have changed over the years. Instead of candles and diyas that burn themselves out, twinkling light strings are used. Gone are the hassles of refilling the oil and replacing the candles, you can simply turn the switch on and sleep peacefully. Your house will not become any less attractive to Goddess Lakshmi while you dream. Special Rangoli colours are available to counter the hassles of preparing a rice paste and then getting a simple mono-coloured Rangoli at the end. Decorations of various types and sizes are so easily available in the market that you don’t have to strain your hands or brains to craft intricate designs. Exquisitely packed boxes of chocolates and specific Diwali gifts abound in the market and even online. You simply have to select and get it delivered to your friends and loved ones. You don’t even need to step out of the house to do any of these things.
But we still do step out. We explore and select the best quality light strings and the most beautiful decorations. We taste and smell chocolates before getting them packed.  We don’t want to make a bad choice and end up being disappointed or worse still end up disappointing our loved ones. We navigate through the festival traffic to deliver gifts to our family and friends because we can’t bear to get them delivered through the emotionless local courier.
So have the Diwali preparations actually become any easier? No! And mostly because we don’t want them to. There’s a certain charm in putting in all the efforts and doing all the tasks with the entire family in the old-fashioned way.   No other festival brings us together like Diwali does. Some things should never change.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Unusual Rituals - Windows into the Past (Article Published in TOI Jammu)

Rummaging through the market to find that one elusive ingredient required for Lakshmi Puja, putting up those flickering, dancing lights to ensure that your house stands out, purchasing those sensational fireworks that light up the sky, and  visiting relatives and friends to exchange those gifts bought at the last minute – yes, we are all caught up in this frenzy! It’s Diwali.

But if you think that the way we celebrate Diwali is wild and frantic, you are in for a surprise. Consider one the traditions alive here in Himachal.  Much after the entire world is moving on after the festival of lights is over, a much darker version of Diwali dawns upon some villages of Kullu, Sirmaur, and Shimla districts. Buddhi Diwali, as it is known locally, is celebrated almost a month after Diwali on the new moon. The revelries involve dancing and singing mantras in tune with the reverberating beats of drums and other local instruments. Hundreds of cattle are sacrificed to appease deities. Gradually, however, breaking of coconuts is being promoted as an alternative to sacrificing the animals.

And when we head south, right on the border of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, sits a little village called Gummatapura where the villagers celebrate Diwali in the most extraordinary way – by hurling cow dung at each other. They call it Gorehabba. The common belief is that frolicking in tons of cow dung collected near the Beerappa temple cleanses one’s soul and cures the body of all kinds of diseases. The celebrations are so lively that many onlookers from nearby villages gather around to enjoy the event.

Diwali in Darjeeling, though not as startling as Buddhi Diwali or Gorehabba, is still different. Locally it is known as Tihar. The first day of the celebrations is dedicated to the crow who is believed to be the messenger of Yamaraj. The first serving of food is offered to the crow and the family eats only after the crow has accepted the food. The same goes for the dog on the second day. The dog is believed to guard the abode of the Yama. The third day is the most significant day with prayers being offered to Goddess Lakshmi. The cow, believed to be the symbol of wealth, is worshipped on this day. In the evening, young people dress up in traditional attires. Singing devotional songs and dancing in tune with the musical instruments, they go from door to door accepting gifts and food.  

In a country like India, it is not a surprise that Diwali is celebrated in so many different ways. What is surprising is that these rituals have existed in isolation for centuries and not many of us know about them. Unlike the traditions in urban India, these traditions have hardly changed at all. They are windows into what Indian society used to be in the yesteryears. Even though practices like animal sacrifice are being and should be discouraged, rest of the rituals should be preserved and cherished like a treasure.  

Mumbai Meets Dilli at India Habitat Centre

Humour, art and literature are perhaps the most effective ways to reflect upon a society. A society that cannot laugh upon itself loses out on growth, maturity, and health. While I was in the UK, I got enough opportunities to attend stand-up comedy shows because some of my batchmates from MA were regular performers. Most of the shows were good but they only just met expectations simply because British are known to have a sauve sense of humour so expectations were accordingly high.

Ashish Shakya
Ever since I came back to India, I was desperate to attend a stand-up comedy show in India. The expectations were again high because I've seen a considerable improvement in the standards of our comedy shows on the television. "Tarak Mehta ka Ulta Chashma" and "Lapataganj" are just two examples. I wish the same could be said about our movies.

So when Tanmay tweeted about "Mumbai Meets Dilli" scheduled for 5th and 6th of November in Gurgaon and Delhi, I immediately logged in to Book My Show and after some hassles and expert guidance from Rajneesh, managed to book my tickets and was quite excited for the event.

Tanmay Bhat
The show started in an understated fashion with no formal compere. I think that was a smart decision and the whole show had a "Straight-down-to-the-business" approach. The show started with the (comparatively) understated, yet rib-tickling performance by Ashish Shakya. His favorite topics were sexuality, sex, Dilliwallahs, Indians in general. The audience was tuned in and our expectations were constantly rising after this great start.

Rajneesh Kapoor
And then Tanmay Bhat took the stage with his hilarious, energetic and expressive performance. The infamous aggressiveness of Dilliwallahs and our haughty culture of "tu jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai?" were his favorite topics.  By the time, Tanmay finished, we were nearly ROFLing. Then entered, Rajneesh, the only artist from Delhi performing in this show. His sweet Punjabi accent and soft tones made even the most targetted jokes easy to bear. It was ironical that the artist from "aggressive Dilli" was the politest of all performers. He even apologised to the one woman from Mumbai because he had made fun of Mumbai to get back at Ashish and Tanmay. His was also the most opinionated and socially sensitized performance.

Rohan Joshi
The last performance was by Rohan Joshi and he took a dig at the late night Teleshopping shows and Anna Hazare. And even though this was the last performance, the show wasn't over yet. Just as the team was taking the final bow and thanking the "excellent" audience, right on the cue, an aggressive Dilliwallah from the audience shouted "Abey bahar aa dekhta hun tujhe." All of us were shocked but soon burst out laughing when we realized that the person was only joking. A great way to end the show and a great way to show the world that we too have a sense of humour and we too can take a joke or too upon ourselves.

The only aspect that was lacking was that none of the Mumbai-wallah performers made any real joke at Mumbai's expense. That would've been a true testimony of their sense of humour.
I came back home happy and rejuvenated and if any of the four Ashish, Tanmay, Rajneesh, and Rohan are performing near you, don't miss the opportunity. Do go and listen to them take a dig at you inside your own home. There's no better way to spend an evening.

Visit VJ's Traveling Camera for more pictures of the show.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

World without Bhupen Hazarika

(Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-L0216-0033 / Katscherowski (verehel. Stark), / CC-BY-SA)
The first time I came across Bhupen Hazarika's name was 18 years back when his soul-touching music and voice floated in the background while Dimple Kapadia in her Rajasthani attire denuded her body of all jewellery. It was Rudali, not exactly a favorite amongst the teenagers back then but truly artisty in every other sense. What made Rudali special for me was nor the breath-taking acting by the cast neither the off-beat, heart-wrenching story. In fact, it wasn't even the silky-smooth voice of Lata Mangeshkar bringing those rustic, alluring lyrics to our homes. It was that coarse, broken, seemingly untamed male voice that sang Maula O Maula, Dil Hum Hum Kare, Samay O Dheere Chalo, that stood out even to my untrained ears.

But of course, Bhupen Hazarika is (and in spite of his demise yesterday, I still say 'is') much (and much) more than Rudali. His singing career started as early as 1939 when he was twelve and he never looked back after that. Loved and respected worldwide,  Bhupenda was never hassled by political boundaries. His has been credited to be the voice of the freedom movement of Bangladesh. His music and lyrics have enabled many a young hearts to express their complicated emotions. His songs dedicated to social causes and to the great river Brahmaputra are spiritual in a very earthy way. I can perhaps never fully appreciate or sum up this great man's life and acheivements but can definitely sense his absence.

2011 has definitely been a difficult year for Indian arts. M. F. Husain, Shammi Kapoor, Jagjit Singh, and now Bhupen Hazarika are amongst the famous artists who were lost to us during this year in quick succession. It seems like the time is moving too fast with each second taking us farther still from their legacy. I wish things would slow down a bit and let us submerge ourselves in the art and music created by these artists to fully appreciate all that we've lost. And, also, to appreciate all that we're left with.

Here's Samay o Dheere Chalo by Bhupen Hazarika, in his own voice. Hope his songs keep echoing forever. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

हमारा शहर उस बरस (Hamara Shehar Us Baras) - A Play at NSD

Drama is closer to life than movies, simply because there are no retakes. And that is why, whenever I watch a play, I'm filled with admiration for the skills and passion of the entire team involved. While there are some who do come in the limelight, it is only the tip of the iceberg that is visible. Most of the team remains hidden, behind the stage, merging seamlessly in the background. But the play is the result of a symbiotic relation between these various players whose only motivation is to make the play a success, to charm the audience enough to earn a spontaneous applause on that emotional scene or that part of passionate speech. There's no better way to picturize the success a team that works well together can achieve.

Therefore, when my friend invited me to watch a play at the National School of Drama, I readily accepted. This was only the second play I was watching at the NSD and I was looking forward to it because the first play "बेगम का तकिया" had touched my heart and I had spent days after watching it imagining the amount of hard work the team must've put into it.

The play that we were going to watch was titled "हमारा शहर उस बरस" which was about the trubulences a city and its people go through during communal unrest. At the centre of the turmoil is a family consisting of Daddu and his son Sharad and their tenants of many years, Hanif and Shruti (a couple).

The play sensitively captures the escalating unrest in the background and its reflection upon the dynamics in the central household. Minorities are more or less portrayed as the victim at the centre while the majority is divided into three groups, defenders, attackers, and the silent. Conflicting voices of these sections of the society come across loud and clear through the course of the play. Guilt and pride about their religious roots dictates their actions and gradually, the situation disintegrates enough to let the outer unrest penetrate the erstwhile jovial and peaceful relationships in the household.

During the course of the play, the audience finds itself foreseeing the worse but the play stays clear of gore and morbidity, concentrating mainly on the crisis faced by humanity and seggregations that threaten to destroy a civilized society as well as a strong, tightly-bound household.

The precise direction by Kirti Jain carries this complicated play with multiple character interactions in almost all scenes with ease. I could recognize many actors as they had also acted in "बेगम का तकिया". It was difficult to choose the 'best' actor as it was clear that all actors gave their life and soul to the parts they had been asked to to play. And it was difficult to find any faults. But yet, there were some who stood out. For example, the narrator Ipshita Chakraborty had an impeccable pronounciation and clarity of expressions. And the actor Jagannath Seth, who played Daddu, had perfect timing for comedy as well as outrage. I already have a lot of respect for the actress Sajida, who played Shruti, Rakhi Kumari, who played the student and the kaamwaali bai, and Punj Prakash, who played Sharad as I have seen their work in "बेगम का तकिया" as well. They never fail to deliver.

I was surprised to know how simple a life these talented actors lead. They are far from the glamour enjoyed by the bollywood actors. Some people may argue but I feel that even the actors who play the smallest parts in these plays are more talented than some of the top actors in bollywood. These stage actors do not have high monetary benefits to look forward to after conclusion of each play. It's only their passion and a stubborn belief in their dreams that keeps them motivated. And I admire them for this fire. It's very inspiring indeed.

If you like watching plays, I would surely recommend "हमारा शहर उस बरस" to you. Go and watch the play with an open mind. The subject can be a little difficult to deal but the team has done justice to it. Watch this play for the acting and the screenplay if not for the subject.

For more pictures, check out
The play is on till the 2nd of October and the tickets can be booked in advance. Check the following link out for more information

Saturday, August 13, 2011


When I was a child, I found it lying in the streets
I picked it up and pampered it.
And now like a friend, 
through clouds and through mist
its genderless voice leads me 
to that naïve sapling
that has raised its head too soon from the snow
and then goes right back in, 
enlightened, frightened,
and wise beyond its years. 

It sighs with me
at the wrinkled, entwined hands of lovers
when they walk each other 
from this street to that,
from this shop to that 
from this year to that.

Holding my hands, 
it has taught me to walk
on this mystic road 
towards a word 
greater than truth.

They laugh and they say it’s all in my head.
But yet, when I least expect, it talks to me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Gaiety Theatre - A Step Forward

Gaiety Theatre, Times of India, India,  Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, Art,  culture,  drama, heritageThe restoration of Gaiety Theatre in Shimla couldn’t have come at a better time. During the last decade, the lifestyle of Indian middle class has seen a tremendous shift from the ‘earn and save’ mode to ‘earn, save, and spend’ mode. They can now afford to use their hard-earned money for recreational activities. There was a time, not too long ago, when theatre, art-exhibitions, and museums were thought to be the pastimes of rich and were never a part of our day-to-day lives. People have started waking up to the importance of arts and literature in the growth of a country. As a result, you can find more and more youngsters visiting art galleries, photography exhibitions, and dramas and studying these subjects as part of their formal education. But this change would have been pointless and self-defeating if the society and the Government had not supported it. And the restoration of the Gaiety theatre is a commendable step in this direction.
Gaiety Theatre, Times of India, India,  Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, Art,  culture,  drama, heritage
Gaiety Theatre, Times of India, India,  Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, Art,  culture,  drama, heritage
Gaiety Theatre, Times of India, India,  Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, Art,  culture,  drama, heritage
When the Gaiety theatre opened for the first time in 1887, it was a part of a much larger town hall built in Gothic style with high arches, vaults and flying buttresses designed by Henry Irwin. However, many parts of the town hall were found to be risky and had to be dismantled in early 20th century. This saw the end of the flying buttresses. However, the Gaiety Theatre survived. The website of the Theatre states that from the time it opened, legends such as Rudyard Kipling, Baten Powel, K. L. Sehgal, Prithvi Raj Kapoor, the Kendalls, Balraj Sahni, Pran, Manohar Singh, Master Mohan, Master Madan, Shashi Kapoor, Raj Babbar, Naseeruddin Shah, and Anupam Kher have performed here. However, number of performances dwindled significantly as years passed. Not so long back, the theatre was used during the shooting of the movie Gadar when parts of the theatre were hurriedly painted. Years of decay and patch works were threatening to ruin the Theatre when the Government of Himachal Pradesh took up the challenge to restore the complex with the help of various experts.

Gaiety Theatre, Times of India, India,  Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, Art,  culture,  drama, heritage
The restoration wasn’t an easy task, either on pockets or on time. It required a lot of passion as well and a heart at the right place because restoration didn’t only mean repairing all that was broken. It meant a minute inspection and research of what the theatre used to be more than a century back. Layers of paint were peeled off to uncover the original colour of each wall and pillar. As per the Gaiety Theatre website, all repairs and material used were in congruence to the initial design of the building. The process started in 2003 and took almost 6 years to complete. Recently, when I was watching Dylan Moran’s comedy show at the Journal Tyne Theatre in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK, the splendour of the theatre made me realize the full extent of the task that must have lain before the Government of Himachal Pradesh when they first set out to restore the Gaiety Theatre. It must have required a lot of perseverance and dedication to go through with it.
Gaiety Theatre, Times of India, India,  Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, Art,  culture,  drama, heritage

Gaiety Theatre, Times of India, India,  Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, Art,  culture,  drama, heritage
Today when you walk in the corridors and the halls, it is very easy to find yourself stepping into a bygone era where spectres of Victorian women in their corsets and gowns stroll around with their hands around the arms of their men wearing black tail coats and hats, sipping expensive, old wines while discussing the latest developments in politics and literature. You blink and you are back in the carpeted, empty halls of today with British voices just fading away beyond the frequencies receptive to human ears. Such is the thoroughness of the restoration that I can add without hesitation that the people who undertook and completed this task have every reason to be proud of their achievement.
Gaiety Theatre, Times of India, India,  Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, Art,  culture,  drama, heritage
The Theatre has again started hosting events and their full calendar is available on their website You can already see plays, festivals, concerts and exhibitions lined up in the various halls and galleries of the theatre. Their extensive image gallery gives one a fair idea about the Gaiety Theatre before and after the restoration. It also houses some priceless photographs of performances dating back to the late 19th century. The website alone is a proof that the Gaiety Dramatic Society, which is currently responsible for the administration of the Gaiety Complex, is taking its job very seriously. They deserve an active participation and encouragement from us as a pat on their backs for their contribution in providing artists and writers a venue to showcase their talents.

Gaiety Theatre, Times of India, India,  Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, Art,  culture,  drama, heritageFor any country to progress and any society to prosper, cultural development is a must and should go hand in hand with industrial development. Culture gives a society its personality and character and is the soul of a nation. Art in any form be it paintings, poetry, stories, books or drama forces us to reflect upon our society and, as a result, take steps for improvement. One of the key strengths of Indian society right from ancient times has been the ability to change. It has never been easy but change has always had a few eager and open minds that were willing to lend their ears to its reasonings. That has helped us withstand years of plunder and foreign rule and still bounce back as soon as we had the first opportunity as a much stronger and mature society. And this is the reason why Indian society has come such a long way from where it was left, broken, in 1947. Today when a lot of people will see value in restoring an old theatre, a few will still argue that we have too many problems to solve before we can indulge in such luxuries. To them I would like to say that there will never be a time when we will not have problems. However, a healthy development in culture will always be a good move and will only help in making the country a better place to live in. A calculated and positive step in this direction can never come too early.
Gaiety Theatre, Times of India, India,  Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, Art,  culture,  drama, heritage

Saturday, June 25, 2011

How to make friends or alienate people in an English office...

...A lot can happen over a cup of coffee.

Before I go any further, I should mention that the title of this post was my friend David Wadieh's idea.

Coffee and tea are indispensible when it comes to offices. And in English offices especially, getting tea or coffee is an elaborate ritual. If you are going to work for an English office for the first time, this post may actually be a life-saver for you because I’ve tried to break the ritual down to three short and simple steps with clear guidelines of what to do depending upon whether you want to make friends or alienate people:

1) Ask people whether they'll like tea or coffee
      To make friends - Ask everyone. Even go to the remotest end of the office to ask that grumpy dude you never talk to.

      To alienate people - Don't ask that girl who always refuses anyways. This will be the one time she simply needed that cup of coffee.

2) If you do not already know how they like their tea or coffee, ask them.

      To make friends – If this is the first time you are doing this and need to ask them, pretend that you feel quite stupid about not being able to magically sense it.

      To alienate people – Pretend that it’s perfectly alright if you have to ask them how they like it / Forget their preferences mid-way and make 100 trips back and forth to confirm and re-confirm

      Tip: It's better to keep a notepad and pen with you at this step

3) Then go to the kitchen all alone, make the tea or coffee as per the individual preferences and make the 11982 trips from the kitchen to their work areas to deliver their beverages

      To make friends: GET IT ALL RIGHT!

      To alienate people: Put normal milk instead of Soya for the lactose intolerant / for the dude who likes his tea with the tea-bag still in it, drain and throw the tea bag / deliver a cold beverage to the last person you are delivering to / add one and a half tea spoon sugar for someone who likes it with one tea spoon / forget someone altogether

And then depending upon the choices you’ve made through the ritual, settle down to work surrounded by radiating friendliness of all your new-found friends or stare into your computer uncomfortably aware of the cold daggers being hurled at you by the blood-thirsty eyes of the person or people you’ve managed to alienate. Good Luck!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Dear Newcastle - I'll Miss Thee

And that is weird because I've never come as close to being banished from my home ever in my life. The toon (as in Geordie-talk) has given me some weird memories to ROFL about. If you do want to know more (I can't see why you would), read on at your own risk:

Crows Nest
To say that I love this pub will be an understatement. If I could, I would carry it with me to India. Staff, who are our best friends by the way, Decor, everything. It is right next to the Uni and serves superb food. Fish and Chips, Chicken and Bacon Sandwich (without Bacon if you like), Cod Fish Finger Sandwich, Tuna Melts, Diet Pepsi (not coke!) everything tastes wonderful here. But what makes this pub a winner is that it is 'reasonable'. And this website confirms it. You can get a drink and decent amount of food within 5 GBP pp if you choose your food intelligently. And the pub also has a hygiene rating of 5 stars if you are as fanatic about hygiene as we weren't. Our frequent afternoon lunches wouldn't be the same if it hadn't been for Crows Nest.

The pub earlier used to be called Bar Oz. I'm glad they took on a new name though. I wouldn't want to be associated with a bar named Oz.

View Larger Map

Here is its biggest and meanest burger appropriately called the Original Loaded Burger (special emphasis on Loaded):

Warning: Eat this only if you haven't eaten anything for at least a month else choose a lighter option. One of our friends went into a food-coma on eating this and sat listlessly for hours afterwards.

Northumberland Street:
The most happening street in the toon, as they call it in Geordie. And by that I mean, REALLY happening. It'll be boring if I tell you that all major chains have their stores on this street. So let's just concentrate on the interesting stuff that happens here. Where else can you see a band of Native Americans (or not!) performing? Anywhere else has a store owner ballet danced towards you to tell you that the store is closed? And beat this if you can. Has a nun driving a piano ever stopped by to ask you how to get to San Jose? If you think I am lying (and I won't hold it against you), here's the proof:

Ducks and Swans at the Leazes Park
Owing to the poverty associated with studentship, I preferred walking down to the Uni from my home and it is a good 2 mile walk one side. It helps that the entire way to the Uni is downhill though that means that the way back is entirely uphill. Anyways, there wasn't much motivation for me to walk to the Uni everyday (classes don't count!) and I would do it very reluctantly. However, one day I discovered a route through the
Leazes Park. And inside the Leazes park I discovered a lake dotted with magnificient Swans and ducks. And the world changed for me from that day. I actually started looking forward to the walks now.

And this is where I saw the first ducklings ever.

Flowers with a Personality
They start appearing everywhere in Spring. Does anyone plant them there before the beginning of the season? I don't think I'll ever know the answer. Perhaps there's a flower Santa somewhere. Anyways, what is unique about the flowers here is that they have a personality and seem to say something. Such as these:
Daffodils that look down upon you.
Flowers that want to break free

Courage on the streets
Geordie women are famous for the war they have waged against weather. And the weather here deserves no less than that. See this for example. And to protect them from everything else, superheroes descend upon the streets. Do you think any town can be safer than Newcastle then?

The Snowman that made us famous
Now this is getting emotional for me. This is where I saw my first snow falling. And it was as pretty as I could've imagined. But then, it kept snowing. And then, it still kept snowing. And I've pretty much had enough for a lifetime. But during this snowfall, I built my very first snowman. Well there were others involved but I'll just steal their credit.
And this was a very special snowman. It had green eyes and and was animated in the sense that its wide smile turned into a grimace gradually. And today, even in the middle of summers, children in our neighbourhood ask us at every opportunities "Are you the people who built the snowman?".

And, finally, a river that likes to flow backwards
I was so surprised that I wrote a poem about it and after I had performed it at a festival, a woman came running to tell me that she could completely relate to what I was talking about. I was glad of some support. May be now we can start an awareness campaign. 

And then there are things that I have learnt in the toon and I'm not talking about Creative Writing. So watch out for the next post.