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.

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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.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

From the Editor - Getting the Most Out of Your Trip

Becoming a traveller isn’t easy. Just like any other hobby or profession, expertise comes with experience and one has to polish the skills over years. Some travellers have a natural talent whereas some work hard towards developing it. Some learn by making mistakes. But those of us who have made these mistakes know that most of the times these mistakes are very expensive. I mean literally. For example, choosing a hotel at an impractical location may result in you spending a lot of money in cab fares. Or shopping without research may result in you paying much more than the item is worth. And when we make such mistakes, we wish that we had known better.

All experienced travellers have their own set of tips to make the most of a trip. And at Ghumakkar, we have no dearth of experience when it comes to travelling. Here are some lessons that I have learnt during my career as a traveller.

Do some research
Find out as much about a place as you can. Go beyond the standard ‘places to visit’ pages and Wikipedia. Read travelogues by people who have recently been to the place. If needed, ask them questions. Gather as many details as possible. Knowledge about common attire, customs, and mannerisms can be very useful especially if you are travelling to a foreign land. Research ensures that you won’t miss out on specialities of a place and be at a lower risk to be conned into paying more than necessary.

Travel without Prejudice
This is the best way to truly experience a place. Form your opinions once you’ve been to a place but avoid doing so before you reach there. Who can understand this better than Indians? Our country has long been seen as the land of snake-charmers and spiritual Guru. As a result, foreign tourists often come to India expecting to experience some aspect of spirituality at every corner. And yes, they do find it. But India has so much more to offer than this. So be open-minded and approach a place with the curiosity of a child.

Click here to read rest of the tips

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Your Little Girl

In the fabric of time, if there was a tear,
I'd enter and emerge the bright-eyed little girl.
Her school bag and water bottle
slung carelessly on her shoulders
bouncing along as she walked, unworriedly
behind, while you, her invincible hero,
ran your last run to stop the school bus.

When your hands were still smooth,
the wrinkles yet to come,
and your body could still bear the weight
of her lying on your stomach.
And you told the old stories, told and retold.
while she fell asleep there, peaceful, fearless.

When you were up, unblinking,
the whole night through as she lay in the bed,
burning with fever. Now and again you asked
“How’s my baby feeling? May be a little better?”
You kept your hand on her forehead
and though the virus took its time,
you’d make it easy to bear.

How I wish it was there, this tear in time.
I would enter and stitch it up,
and holding your hand, go back
to the cheery past, the place where you could run
once again, with strong and healthy knees;
Go back to being a little girl, your little girl,
to my eternal childhood, to your eternal youth.

(This poem is very special to me for two reasons. The first reason is that this poem is about my father who is my hero and also the best papa in the world. The second reason is that I performed this poem during my first ever poetry performance at A Night of Poetry @ The Northumberland Arms on 28th Feb 2011.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


2nd January 1996 – I was taken away on this day. Kidnapped, if you would like to use the word. I was only an hour old then. My mother had planned this long before I was born. If I turned out to be a boy, I would stay in the family, grow up with them, and one day help on the fields. One day I would bring in a wife and then help create a son to carry on the family name. However, if I turned out to be a girl, I could not stay. I had to leave. So my mother had arranged with the widow who lived at the end of the village to sneak me out and take me to the Mahila Kalyan Sanstha and then leave me there to find my destiny, to fight my own battles.

And as the fate would have it, I was born a girl.

My father did not want me. My grandparents did not want me. I was useless to them. And my mother knew this very well. She knew secrets that were thought to be buried so deep that no one could ever uncover them. She knew why so many baby girls were born dead in the village. She knew why after nine-months of pregnancy, often no cries of a hungry baby echoed from the expectant house.

My mother wanted me to live. I wanted to live.

When the widow came to take me away, she remarked how unusually deep my gaze was. I wanted to remember my mother’s face forever. I knew I would never see it again. In spite of her painful labour, my mother looked beautiful. Her red dupatta with green block prints are imprinted on my mind as are her dark eyes and a smooth brown complexion. She put a locket of Goddess Kali around my neck for strength and to ward off the evil eye.

I held on to my mother’s fingers for a little longer. I wanted to be hugged by her, to be fed by her, to be cuddled like baby boys are when they are born. But deep inside I was resigned. I let go of her fingers and tore my gaze away from her face as she wrapped me in a tattered blanket and handed me to the widow. I did not cry.
There was no time to waste. Soon my father and his brother would come for me. So the widow fled with me held gently against her breasts. I don’t know what happened to my mother after that. I don’t think my father would have bothered too much about the missing baby girl. It was better this way for him too.

I know I will survive. I stand a better chance out in the world than within the muddy confines of my home. I can feel the strength burning inside me with each tiny thud of my heart. I know I will go farther than anyone in my family has ever dared. And my father was right. Girls don’t carry on their father’s name. I won’t too. But, yes, I will always remember my mother. I will be her daughter. I can’t wait to start exploring the world. But I feel a little scared too. Because along with my mother’s courage, I also have a bit of my father’s cowardice flowing in my veins.

Note: This is a work of fiction and is not related to the person in the picture