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.