Sunday, December 31, 2006

House of Flying Daggers

Watched Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers yesterday. All by myself, which is fast becoming my favourite way to watch movies. Just me in my head.

I loved Yimou’s Hero, which was a phenomenally visual experience. Flying Daggers tops that for meticulously choreographed fights, if not colour. Belongs to the Wuxia genre, Wikipedia tells me, with its trademark martial arts heroes.

859 AD. Feng Tian county, China. The House of Flying Daggers is a secret rebel society that robs the rich to give to the poor. Government lawkeepers, Captains Jin and Leo, have assassinated the leader of the Daggers and have now been ordered to kill the new leader within ten days. There is a new dancer in the Peony Palace, the local brothel. The Captains have information that the blind girl Mei is the daughter of the old leader, here to have her revenge. After first trying conventional methods of arrest and interrogation, they decide to approach it differently. Jin goes undercover as a lone warrior and rescues Mei and aids her escape, hoping that she will lead them to the headquarters of the Flying Daggers. Some things go to plan and some don’t.

That then is the bare bones plot. But it is how Zhang Yimou clothes it that is so remarkable. Early on, Captain Leo challenges Mei to a round of the Echo game and the scene is set lushly in tones of peach and turquoise. She stands surrounded by drums, and as he flings beans that ricochet off them, she must imitate the patterns. The sound is designed as well as everything else in the movie.

Later as the General’s men hunt down Mei and Jin, there is one prolonged, beautifully-choreographed battle in a bamboo forest, where the shoot is used in the most versatile of ways. Soldiers swing from the very tops of swaying trees, attacking the two and finally trapping them in a rather stunning-looking cage.

The plot twists and turns, and the tragic climax takes place with a blazing red-orange autumnal forest as backdrop. As the pitch rises, black clouds gather and pelt down snow, leaching the colour out of the scene, leaving behind snowwhite frames. Inevitably, the virgin snow is soon sullied. Blood is spilled in an orgy of machismo and the tale breathes its last.

On the whole, I liked Hero more. There was greater control there, I think; it was tauter and altogether more deliberate. In Flying Daggers, emotions descended too easily to melodrama and for all its beauty, it was less noble.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Camping out in Nirmal

Back from three glorious days in Nirmal, Adilabad. All birding trips are fun but this one was a right treat.

BSAP members were invited down there by Waheed saab, DFO, Nirmal division, a man I’ve written about once. Wonderful man. For this trip, we were supposed to stay at the Rest House in Nirmal with all urban comforts, and make short jaunts around for purposes of birding. But Waheed saab looked around at our expectant faces and came up with a plan: ‘Would you like to stay out in the forests for a night?’ Is the Verditer flycatcher beautiful?

So we went. Aaha, oho, what to tell you of the beauteous things that awaited… I will not start on birds here, but there was a lakeside, a tent, a fire and a thin sliver of yellow moon.

We don’t often realise it, looking up from well lit, polluted cities, but the sky is a glorious glittering, jewelled affair. To lie out on the rocks with binoculars pressed down on your spectacles, linking the stars to form impossible constellations leaves your mind rather forcibly widened.

We went walking through the forests at night. Dark it was as we scuffled over roots and leaves, avoiding forest trenches by thin beams of torchlight. The forest officers shone their powerful searchlights into the woods but there was not a neelgai or sambhar or even owl to be seen but it was enough to be able to walk in black silent forests. The pitch black was practically a new colour to us citified folk.

We came back by midnight to a fabulous meal arranged by the forest staffers: rice, yummy dal, tangy tamatar-aloo curry and chicken. We’d forgotten it was Christmas Eve but Rajeev Mathew hadn’t. He brought out this delicious plum cake that we devoured and compounded with bananas and enormous meetha paans.

During the small hours, the mist came off the lake like a beast and our tent was sodden. Morning brought the sun and a stork-billed kingfisher. Yes, life is good.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Baithe muskaye

For someone whose work is communication, I find myself devoid of words fairly often. Happy most times to let experiences wash over me, letting stay what wants to stay, letting go those that leave no residue. And unwilling, even unable to talk about them in either case.

Title is from Kabir:
Akath kahani prem ki, kuch kahi na jaaye
Goonga keri sarkara, baithe muskaye

Monday, December 04, 2006

Samaroha – Day 4

The last post on the music festival, I promise, and the last on classical music for a while, but I just have to get this much out.

The morning session on this last day was pushed to the evening and the programme was packed. Started with Devki Pandit, whose list of gurus reads like the who’s who: Jitendra Abhisheki features there as well as Kishori Amonkar. She sang one of my favourite ragas, Madhuvanti. Nice voice she has, great shruti and it rings out clearly. But also a bit boring.

Pt Prabhakar Karekar was next. We rubbed our hands in anticipation. This man has one of THE most mesmerising voices I’ve heard and he’s got taseer like you wouldn’t believe. We settled ourselves, ready for a high treat.

He began on Bhoopali and dismay! he was struggling. He was greyer than we remembered, and Shweta turned to me, pale, “He can’t have grown that old, can he?” It wasn’t that, just a congested chest and tiredness. It was like watching your favourite player play with an injury – you feel for them at every wince and you’re torn between having them retire and take care of that pain, and carrying on. However, it got better, and genius burst through more frequently. The great ones it seems do play hurt.

Karekar was all for rising after the one piece but was persuaded to sing one very sweet-sounding Marathi natyageet, after which he wrapped up determinedly.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Samaroha – Day 3

My first proper exposure to Dhrupad. I’ve heard so much about how the khayal nearly pushed this ancient style of gaayiki into extinction, and how fascinating a genuine recital can be. The Gundecha brothers from Bhopal are among a fistful of singers who still maintain the purity of the form and are leading a revival.

They started yesterday with Shuddh Kalyan, and for the first half hour or so, reminded me persistently of elephants. Prolonged notes, often near infrasonic rumbles, sustained vibrations. The raga was being picked out strand by strand, with such long pure notes as to make it seem like you had to move far back to see the pattern. Dhrupad’s priority, I felt, lay with sound, not necessarily melody. That came too, but the point was austere, primeval sound, set in a sophisticated classical pattern of three speeds.

They followed that up with a Shiva stuthi in Raga Adhana – dramatic, rousing: Shiva, Shiva, Shiva, Shankara, Aadi deva, Yogi, Mahadeva…

Then, at Pandit Jasraj’s request, Kabir in Raga Charukeshi with Jheeni jheeni keeni chadariya. I was extremely moved, but as I struggled to translate all that sensation into some form of communication, Durga Jasraj came up and quoted Javed Akhtar: “Hamare yahan badon ki taareef karna bhi badtameezi maani jaati hai.” Which said enough.

If the audience sat solemn through these two hours as individual islands of feeling, it all became communal with the violinist brothers Kumaresh-Ganesh, who were remarkably polished and very enjoyable.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Samaroha – Day 2

Ghate ka sauda

Am thoroughly upset with people at concerts these days who greet every successful nuance and turn with thunderous applause. I wish they wouldn’t. Yes, it’s appreciation but wouldn’t a well-placed ‘wah’ or a murmured ‘kya baat hai’ do? No, they break into claps, and people next to them wake up and then it goes around the gathering in ripples. It breaks the flow for the artiste, and if some people have been transported by the music, they’re brought to very rudely.

This happened rather often with the Ulhas Bapat performance last night. But then he had more than the audience to contend with: he had as accompanist on tabla, Vijay Ghate. Bapat started off with in Raga Charukeshi, a very lovely alaap that augured well. Once Vijay Ghate joined him however, Charukeshi was pushed into the background, a mere foil for his prowess. Completely oblivious to Bapat’s plans for the recital, his intention to examine phrase after phrase, and weave them into a many-hued tapestry, Ghate jumped in and thundered away at his drums with short gimmicky flourishes. The audience obligingly clapped every time, and the santoor man’s smile became increasingly fixed.

Why cannot accompanists stay within their roles? Can they not see the bigger picture? If you’re asked to play a humble cog, you play that goddamn cog. Even if you think you can be the entire wheel, or the chariot. Because that’s what is needed of you this minute, your cogness. Anything less, or anything more is useless.

The Jasrangi jugalbandi

This jugalbandi is an experiment of Pt Jasraj’s, and as the maestro outlined his vision for what would unfold, Arjun whispered to me, 'This is either going to go very well or flop miserably.' It went well, oh, it went well.

The Jasrangi jugalbandi has two singers, one male and female. Based on the system of moorchanas, the two singers sing different ragas in different scales at once. The pancham of the male voice becomes the shadj for the female voice. I have a very tenuous grasp on the technicalities, but it sounded heavenly.

Clearly the ragas must be chosen with care: the first piece had Abhyankar singing Purya Dhanashri and Ashwini Bhide Deshpande coming back with Haveli Basant. Two distinct ragas in conjunction. Sometimes, while they bantered in swaras, it seemed as if this was a cultured argument, each person with their clearly delineated point of view, understanding the other, but preferring nevertheless to hold their own perspective. It celebrated the divide of the sexes as well as possibilities of union.

Ras bar’sat tore ghar

The Jasrangi exercise has been done before but singers on those occasions had been disciples of Pt Jasraj, all from the Mewati gharana. This, we were told, was the first time two different gharanas attempted to come together thus.

The second piece had Abhyankar on Kalavati and Ashwini on Abhogi. They chose to sing a composition popular with Bhide Deshpande’s gharana, Jaipur Atrauli, and succeeded beyond hope. Superb, simply superb.

Ashwini Bhide was a little nervy – the screeching mike didn’t help, and nor perhaps the fact that she was on Mewati turf, so to speak – but she carried it off fabulously. As for Abhyankar, he approached god-like dimensions yesterday, channelling the essence of Kalavati from the very first note.

Gundecha brothers today, followed by Carnatic violinists Ganesh-Kumaresh.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Play on...

Music bonanza in Hyderabad. Sadly TM Krishna clashed with Pandit Jasraj yesterday. Wanted to do both, but TM Krishna was going well and we stayed put instead of dashing across town, wasting precious minutes stuck in traffic.

Pt Jasraj’s annual music festival, the Pt Motiram Maniram Samaroh, began yesterday. Big names expected: there is Ulhas Bapat for tonight as well as a jugalbandi between Sanjeev Abhyankar and Ashwini Bhide Deshpande. Ulhas Bapat by himself is exciting enough, but Abhyankar and Bhide Deshpande, and them singing together is like chocolate brownie followed by death-by-chocolate.

Unfortunately the fly in the wax is... well… the wax. I’ve gone and gotten one ear almost completely blocked. Abnormal wax buildup, that’s what. It was bad enough to begin with but a little ear twisting would settle the wax away from the eardrum. Then I tried a few drops of Dewax yesterday and now everything is muffled. I’m having fun pretending to be a very old village-type gaffer with beedi and all, theatrically raising one hand behind the ear and going, “aaaa?” but what’s to be done about the concert tonight?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

How the race was run

Ever been so happyexcited, so tired that you had no words left? Had your head in such a whirl of activity, been so pumped up with the thrill of competition that you couldn’t tell anyone else what the hell that had been about? That was the Hyderabad Bird Race. I came back with honest intentions of a nice long post on it, I sat down to write it, and nothing would come. Best say it baldly: it was FUN. Bole to, kutte ke maze.

Three days later, I feel calmer and more able to give an account of sorts. More than 15 teams, people of all ages (the youngest was four or five and we certainly had people in their sixties), more women than men – all haring off after birds. What’s more, we discovered our true characters: who’d stretch a half glimpse into a tick on the checklist, who’d conjure up a pink headed duck, and who would play it so scrupulously as to come back with half a dozen less than they should have.

More than half the teams wound their way first to the beautiful ICRISAT-Patancheru campus, which has never yet yielded less than 50 species to anyone knocking at their gates.

Winning team: Geese with a final tally of 110 captained by naturalist Rajeev Mathew.

We were allotted teams so as to even the playing field a little. So there was one captain, usually a more experienced birder, with a couple of wet-behind-the-ears newbies in each team. The first couple of hours in many cars went like this:

Newbie: What was that?
Captain: That’s a rock pigeon. You’ll see great numbers in our cities. Greyish bird with glistening sheen of green and purple.

Newbie: Oh, look, look, another bird, there, flying in there.
Captain (who’s driving, avoiding pedestrian and craning neck perilously): That’s a rock pigeon.
Newbie: Oh? But it was so far, how could you tell?
Captain: Aaaah, umm… it flies in that typical way…

A few minutes later
Newbie (alert and determined): Oh, there, there!
Captain (pulling over to look, and then, with voice ever so slightly edgy): That’s a rock pigeon.
Newbie (with embarrassed laugh): It looks so different…


Ten minutes later
Newbie (hesitant): Oh, there’s a bird there. Maybe it’s a rock pigeon.
Captain (not turning around and driving past resolutely): Yeah, probably.

Behind them a Peregrine Falcon swoops for its prey.

ICRISAT was good, but nowhere up to its usual standards. The lakes were almost bare where normally you’re unable to look at one bird for any length of time because there are at least half a dozen others clamouring for your attention. Still, slowly, with more hard work than we’re accustomed to at this campus, the numbers went up.

Reluctantly, we shifted to the Hyderabad Central University which gave us many of our more common birds, as well as the gorgeous Tickell’s blue, a bronze-winged jacana and what Shweta is fairly convinced was the brown flycatcher. A peacock silhouetted on a rock against the dying sun was our last bird of the day. My team’s tally was a middling 79.

I must tell you about this mystery bird at HCU. Clearly a babbler, rusty brown down the back, distinct white underparts, sharply defined. And – I’ll need your special attention here – red, red eyes. The newbies shuffled impatiently – such a fuss over one bird! but Arjun, Shweta and I needed to know. We rifled through the books to the babbler pages. The rusty cheeked scimitar babbler strayed across from the Himalayan foothills? Perhaps not. Had we missed a little grey on the head, could it be a Wynaad laughing thrush? After all, how far are the Western Ghats anyway; the birds don’t really refer to distribution maps. Finally we filed it under the suspense account.

The mystery was cleared up for us after dinner by Rajeev Mathew. It was the yellow eyed babbler. ‘But, how…the red eyes,’ we spluttered, ‘we saw it distinctly – it couldn’t be the yellow eyed babbler!’ Patiently, the explanation came: yellow apparently is only for a yellow ring the dratted bird has AROUND its RED eye – the yellow was bleached out in the afternoon sun and we hadn’t been able to see it. Salt was rubbed into wounds by Sharada Annamaraju, who knew all about this little trick the bird plays on gormless birders, and was disgustingly superior about it. Incidentally, the bird was in our neck of the woods quite legitimately: its distribution is widespread and splatters into every contour of the Indian map.

Well then, much maja came. We are going to insist that BSAP have this every week.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Nostalgia limited

Know what gives me a kick these days? Throwing out stuff I don’t need.

I didn’t always use to be this way. I was born a Hoarder. A genetically-ordained Packrat. I kept clippings. I kept papers, magazines, scraps, papers I’d scribbled interesting/abstruse illustrations on, poems, letters, cards, address books, every leaf and every pebble that meant something. I kept Sunday supplements of The Hindu till they took over the entire shelf. And when they started to give us Asterix once a week, I remember starting to put together Asterix in Belgium, so I’d have the entire book in a file.

Intervention came in the form of my mother, who HATED those Hindu supplements. Spring cleaning invariably signalled battles, where I held on but just. It often happened that I hadn’t looked at my stuff between one cleaning and the next, and the fifth or perhaps the sixth time that happened, it began to occur to me that perhaps she had a point: I didn’t actually need all this. The purging became voluntary but it was still an effort. I didn’t need to keep history textbooks from graduation, or that notebook from middle school even if it had scribbles in my best friend’s handwriting. Letting go took time.

Today of course, I rock at it. Anything that has outlived active use goes OUT. This isn’t as unfeeling as it sounds, and it doesn’t mean either that there is no room for record, or nostalgia – just, it’s not policy to keep stuff. For instance, mum herself keeps these tiny little pair of sandals that went on my feet when I was one. I can’t begin to tell you how cute they are, and of course, they stay. So do my French grammar books, and my billets-doux, but material from that seminar I attended four years ago that I couldn’t keep my eyes open in? They go, even if I'm hazily convinced I'll need to refer someday.

It clears up so much room for the present, it’s liberating. It tells me: what you have now is important, it deserves work space. Now it just remains to flex my hands and start to fill the present, so help me god.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

About the Bird Race

Hokey, now about that race we've been chirping about.

The Birdwatchers' Society of Andhra Pradesh (BSAP) is having a bird race on the lines of the big ones in the UK, USA and Singapore. Before one of you rushes off to drop a quiet line to Maneka Gandhi or the SPCA, let me quickly add that it will be humans doing the racing, and the birds will be left unmolested, more or less.

The funda is simple: to form teams of four or five members, and see as many bird species as you can in 12 hours between dawn and dusk. The area you’re allowed to traverse is a 60 km radius around Hyderabad. Teams will travel by cars or bikes: bird races in parts of the world are such high profile events, I’m told birders even hire choppers to be able to hop across to wherever they want to be. Since this is Hyderabad’s first race, I doubt we’ll be seeing those but what a fun anyway.

With one thing and the other, BSAP’s monthly outings haven’t taken place for nearly two months, and members are uniformly suffering from birding deprivation. The result of course, is that everyone is thrilled to bits about the race and chomping at the bit.

The race is open to all, not just BSAP members. So if you’re in Hyderabad, even half interested in birding, and would like to see what the fuss is about, do come.

Date: 26 November 2006
When to report: At 6:00 am; with cars, captain and all team members
Where: In front of the Hyderabad Public School, Begumpet main road, next to the foot over-bridge
Flag-off: At 6:30 am, after being briefed re rules, and being handed log book and breakfast hampers
Finish line: 6.30 pm at Hotel Green Park, Begumpet, where teams are required to turn in their log books
Register with:
Siraj: 98482 72520 / Shafaat: 98859 20851 / Susheel: 93933 19333 / Nandu: 98480 84362 / Moorty: 98494 70411

If you need more details, please mail me (my id’s in my profile) and I’ll send you the format and rules. Looks like much fun will come.

Friday, November 17, 2006


How much longer is this Daniel Pearl movie thing going to take? I'm sick of Jolie-Pitt already.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

This evening...

Just back from watching a wildlife film by Shekhar Dattatri called Monsoon – India’s God of Life. Didn’t expect a crowd of over 200 people for such a screening, but organisers Orient Longman and Universities Press had done their groundwork and the turnout was impressive and interested. Chennai-based forum NatureQuest is seeking to establish a similar platform in Hyderabad and they have Romulus Whitaker, the snake man from Chennai visiting next.

Monsoon... has high production standards, was really well made but left me a little discontented. It sought to look at how the rains affect wildlife in the subcontinent, and while it did do that, it did so erratically. I’m quibbling – it was fun, it informed and it entertained.

Met many people I haven’t met in a while, the Birding Society is having a Bird Race (more of that anon) and I’ve just had two cups of irani chai. All of this is leaving me pretty buzzed and so you get a post.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Jaaneman, tick

Have fallen behind with Bollywood. The Diwali releases’ backlog is being taken care of now and I made a dent in the pile with Jaaneman today.

People had said it was whacky and so it was. Shirish Kunder seems taken with the Broadway musical and I was vastly entertained with the first half. It was a quirky, merrily-paced narrative and I laughed readily at all the jokes: archival footage of Filmfare Awards from god-knows-when, and particularly the troupe of qawwals walking insouciantly out of the closet to add ambient sound. When wannabe star Suhaan Kapoor (Salman Khan) knocks producers’ doors in search of work, the scene brings a faint whiff of the Maestro Gene Kelly, when he so famously declared ‘Gotta dance.’ Of course all this tapers off quickly as the story turns earnest but it was great while it lasted.

Seriously, it is time our movie makers cut down on reel time – this one was half hour too long. I may have time on my hands, but I like to have it respected. And our heroes have taken to crying too much. New Man and all is very well but a little less of that please.

Tomorrow, Vivah. Doing good, aren’t I? I wish I had smileys, I’m needing a wide toothy grin.

Don that

At long last, Don.
Didn't dislike it, but could see why they dissed it - bores you in the middle and, but for a moment here and there, lacks charm. Since the original isn't razor sharp in my memory this was almost like a fresh movie. Loved SRK, thought Priyanka Chopra quite alright (she irritated me in Kkrishh) but I tired of Boman Irani, Om Puri and Arjun Rampal.

One reason I particularly looked forward to Don was Rajiv Surti. This man was one of the choreographers in Star One's Nach Baliye competition last season and he was head and shoulders above anyone else there. Farhan Akhtar, if you remember, was one of the judges, and Surti had had his couple Rajeshwari and Varun Badola do an extremely intelligent version of Khaike paan banaras waala.

Akhtar was pretty impressed with Surti and had him do one song in Don (not Khaike, which was choreographed by Surti's mentor, Ganesh Hegde). I didn't know which one Surti was given to tackle but as it happened, it didn't matter: no number stood out.
Loved the Main hoon Don sequence though. Sexy, stylish and velvet. Long live the King.

Correction: A commenter tells me it wasn't Hegde who put Khaike paan banaraswaala together, but Saroj Khan. Thanks.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Sahyadri Diary – 2

Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji!

Yeh hai mulq Marathon ka, yahan Shivaji dola tha
Mughlon ki takat ko isne talwaron pe tola tha
Har parbat par aag lagi thi, har parbat ek shola tha
Boli ‘Har Har Mahadev’ ki bachha bachha bola tha
Sher Shivaji ne rakhi thi laaj hamari jaan ki
Is mitti se tilak karo ye dharti hai balidan ki

Aao bachon tumhe dikhaye jhanki Hindustan ki
is mitti se tilak karo ye dharti hai balidan ki

There are 300 forts in the area that Shivaji used in his campaigns, and each has a story attached. Coming from Hyderabad, where our concept of forts is shaped by the opulent Golconda, I was taken aback with the sparseness of the Maratha forts. There are hardly any structures here, save a few to store grain and the odd temple. The fortifications are just secure spaces that were used as temporary camps – these were wartime forts, not forts for living in.

I knew of course that Shivaji was revered the length and breadth of Maharashtra, but I had no idea the man lived so vividly in the state’s imagination. Perhaps it was the assortment of Marathi people in our group, perhaps it was the fact that we were touring some of the forts the great Maratha had used, but hero worship flowed through the course of our trek, and ‘Har Har Mahadev’ rent the air quite frequently. All this was great fun and I sympathise with patriotism but attitudes often spilled over into chauvinism that had me squirming a bit. On the plus side, I can now do a rousing impression of ‘Jai jai Maharashtra maaza…”

Weighty matters

The weight of your backpack, as I have hinted once or twice before, is very important. Everyone on our trek was inordinately interested in what exactly made up other peoples’ packs. Most trekkers are extremely gram-conscious and go to some trouble to cut down. Acquisition of light gear can become quite obsessive, I’m told. One experienced trekker confessed to cutting his toothbrush in half, and bringing only midget plastic spoons.

On the other hand were the Gujjus, who brought a wide assortment of eats, nearly four kilos of munches: roasted peanuts, chikkis and stuff as well as three types of pickles. But they bore these hefty packs cheerfully and were heart-warmingly generous with their food, which shamed us for we had nothing to offer beyond glucose. Still, a refreshing drink of jaljira is not something you can turn down when you have been walking six hours, so we accepted with gratitude. No doubt we will square up this life or the next.

Many splendoured things

What the trip lacked in birds was made up for by butterflies. What a vivid collection the Sahyadris have: blue monarchs, eggflys, yellow grasses, striped tigers in great numbers and all at once…. Most luckily we had entomologist Dr Nanabhai for names and descriptions. I’m afraid we’ll now have to buy a butterfly field guide as well.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sahyadri Diary – 1

Aeeeee… yo..ooooo

Bit of a backgrounder on the trek. This was organised by the Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI) who do some really commendable work in organising treks and guiding people across wilderness terrains at astoundingly low costs. YHAI has treks all over the country and they keep adding routes as they go. There is a desert trek in Rajasthan that sounds daunting and a beach trek in Goa that beckons like a siren.

This trek in the Sahyadris took us from Karjat to Lonavala, through Kondana, Rajmarchi, Shirota lake, Karle, Bhaje and Lohgad. Landscape: hills, scrub, lakes, tanks, caves and forts.

Trekking is addictive; most people can never stop with one and soon you’re needing to trek as often as three times a year. While you’re struggling up steep ascents, fighting to get air into your lungs, valiantly trying to match pace with the merciless person in front of you, you begin to question the sanity of people who’d leave behind reasonably comfortable lives to kill themselves on a mountain. But then, pain leaves no memory, and what remains is exultation. I don’t know why, but it stays – a nice, enduring high. That, and images that change you forever. Even if you’re encased in concrete for a long time after that, blue skies stay with you.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

...and back

The shoes were on their best behaviour after all. The pack was too heavy, eventually – I should have left out the shorts, perhaps the hawai chappals, maybe even two shirts. Drat, they were right.

The binoculars were a waste – someone way at the head of the long line of trekkers saw a giant squirrel (Ratufa indica) but of course, there was no chance of its hanging around once several wheezing people traipsed along, and it bounded away.

However, it is all done – the trek was fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. While we panted up and down the hills hauling our sorry asses and even sorrier bags, we had been dimly aware that we were having fun, but it is now quite certain – totally fulltoo rocking.

Friday, October 27, 2006


...on a trek, people.
Sahyadris. A trail with many of Shivaji’s forts, Buddhist temple caves and sundry temples dotting the way.

My bag is packed; I think I've thought of everything. Gnawing worry that my shoes may not behave perfectly, but we shall soon know. A little extra bump in the arch contour of my left shoe that MAY hurt after the seventh hour of walking – never say I don’t give you details.
My pack is ominously bulgy and I still haven’t put in the water. The pro packers say I don’t really need five shirts but what do they know. But see, we’ll be consuming the glucose and the chocolates and I’ll be wearing the shoes (hopefully). So that’s 400 - 800 gms off eventually. Hmph.

Do I need 1½ litres of water? YES, I do.
We are taking binoculars but not the field guide.
Camera, tick. Batteries, tick.
Bandana, 1 nos and soft handkerchiefs, 2 nos still drying on clothesline; to be stuffed in.
Too late to go out and buy insect repellent.
Shweta has set her heart on whistles which we ain’t got. Shall just have to make SURE we don’t get separated from group.

Happily in a few hours, it’ll be too late to do anything about anything. Wish me luck, no blisters and perfect weather.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

On the remake

Why is everyone intent on revisiting older classics? Umrao Jaan, Don, Sholay - ah well, at least it gives the news channels something to do. Half hour specials every day. One yesterday that compared frame by frame Helen's Yeh mera dil pyar ka deewana number with the new one by Kareena Kapoor. With running commentary.
SRK everywhere (not complaining - he sounds decent).

Caught a bit of the big hoopla over Umrao Jaan. The promos look pretty but that's all. What I'm lusting after is not Ash or even Abhishek, but that gorgeous turquoise he's wearing. Beaut. muah.
Is it just me or are they very very thanda?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Talk of the Devil

The Devil Wears Prada, yesterday. Went expecting a fluff movie and well, it was kinda, but what glorious fluff!

The Marauder posts about it here, and as always speaks for me. It was such brilliant fun, the movie – the clothes, the shoes... every frame, in fact. Two very absorbing hours that steep you in the world of fashion – so completely in fact, that I stepped out of the movie's New York into real-time Hyderabad, slightly taken aback at the sight of ordinary dhoti-clad people riding scooters.

Meryl Streep as Miranda Priestly – masterly. That soft monotone, those little flickers of the eyelids. She attracted and repelled, inspired horror and admiration all at once.

Fashion, I think, is one of those things you either get or not – this film does, of course. It understands what the deal is and conveys quite nicely the all consuming focus so typical of its acolytes.

We were discussing this rather excitedly yesterday and my mother came out with something profound: of all the things we do – things we human beings do to occupy our time on earth – the two industries that make most sense are entertainment and fashion.

Almost everything we do is against the flow of life. Medicine cures, halts/delays death; developmentalists try desperately to improve affairs, managers manage other people, organise things... everything seeks to improve, change, alter. There is no genuine belief in transience or the natural rhythm of things, or we wouldn’t take ourselves so seriously.

Fashion and entertainment though are in line with the way things are, go with the flow of life – they have no utility, they are frivolous, and they also have no pretensions of doing anything other than helping you pass your time more pleasantly than you might otherwise have. They are about adornment, embellishment… and inherently rather profound in their non-seriousness. They are very much about the now, the just now.

Heh, I say this now and then, but today you must please imagine Streep’s gentle voice, cool and dismissive: That is all.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Rained all of yesterday. And today. No sign of the sun in two days.

The clothes won't dry, the damp leaves its smell, everything is wet and yucky. But the leaves look green and they seem to like this incessant drip. Droplets hang poetically from every bough and I have been taking mental SLR pictures all morning, playing with focus and macro frames.

Cabin fever threatens but we need the groundwater. Nothing to do but put on toe socks, a warm jacket, place myself by the window and blog.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Side effects: Headache, nausea

Pyar ke side effects today. Dragged along by sister who thought the casting of Mallika Sherawat with Rahul Bose interesting. Also wanted to see it before Deepa Gahlot had her say Sunday morning. Not that we tend to take her word on what movies we must watch – oh no, for this is the lady who doesn’t see a movie but to see its faults, a film critic who does not want to like films. This is the person whose tastes were too fine for Dil Chahta Hai and who, when required to critique Lagaan, presumably found herself at a loss, but staunchly went ahead and criticised its budget instead.
Still, she makes valid points on good days, and if she were to come down too harshly on this small-time multiplexy movie, our flickering interest might die.

Oh would that it had! Kaash, kaash! I will spare you your money, effort and time – the phillum is bheja pakaoo. Filed under comedy and romance, it is neither.

Storyline is simple: couple seeing each other for three years. Girl wants to marry, man not sure. The theme is surely a decade old, maybe more. What woman wants to marry a reluctant man these days? None of the characters manage to convince you, or for that matter, each other.

Five minutes into the film, Sherawat’s character snatches the remote from her boyfriend who’s watching an India cricket match, switches off the TV, so she can discuss “us” and propose marriage. Such are the stereotypes we are dealing with: insensitive women and boorish men. Bah! Bose’s character hems and haws, when of course he should have frogmarched her to the door and put her outside, and then we’d be done pretty quickly.

Instead, on and on it goes for two and a half hours till you’re heartily sick of the whole thing. The jokes which are only mildly amusing to begin with, pall quickly. Non actor Rahul Bose looks tired for most of it, bags under eyes and red rimmed. Mallika Sherawat looks nice and is the best of the lot, given the lack of brief from the director.

That is all.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The other twin

I've been meaning to put this up forever. I wrote this piece on my hometown Secunderabad for India Today Travel Plus and it was carried in the August 2006 issue.

I'd have liked to put up more pictures but I've had the most appalling luck with them - my camera card ran out of space, I shifted computers and the few pictures I had are inaccessible, and when I got a friend send me some, they wouldn't open. And now, Footloozilla, thanks for sending 'em again but the Kodak ones are tiny. I give up.


One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.
– Henry Miller

Writing a travel piece about a place you’ve lived in for more than two decades feels odd. After all, this is where you always travel from, and very seldom to. This is home, where there is security but not the sharpening of senses that comes with new places. My views of my hometown Secunderabad are deadened by years of familiarity; sometimes I see only what I want to, at others, I indulge in a glut of nostalgia for a street remarkable for no other reason than it was last visited more than ten years ago. A ‘regular’ travel piece then poses a bit of a challenge: what to put in, and what to leave out?

A chance to look in from the outside however came by this June, when Secunderabad celebrated its 200th birthday. Celebrations were lined up, hoardings put up and pamphlets given out and we citizens shook out of our slumberous lives and looked at our city with new eyes, astonished by the number of monuments it seemed to have – some tucked away on sylvan roads never traveled, some in bustling hubs, passed by everyday for years.

Secunderabad has always been shadowed by its twin, Hyderabad. The four minars dominate the mental landscape along with old markets, old buildings and the famed nawabi culture. Biryani, they will tell you, and khubani ka meetha. Strong spices and the fragrance of ghee fight a riot of colours for dominance of your senses. It has been easy, all too easy to be dazzled and miss completely the quieter, subtler taste of Secunderabad. If Hyderabad was the seat of the Nizams, Secunderabad was brought into existence to solidify British military presence. If Hyderabad is nawabi, Secunderabad is distinctly angrezi. Hyderabad overpowers, but Secunderabad leaves its mark slowly, more insidiously.

They’re called twin cities, but Hyderabad and Secunderabad are more properly siblings: Secunderabad has 200 years to Hyderabad’s 400. Secunderabad, it must be acknowledged, was an afterthought, an appendage. What was a tented city that housed British troops 10 miles from Hyderabad was named and given an identity. That military presence grew and left behind a heritage as distinct as Hyderabad’s.

Secunderabad’s Cantonment was where it all was two centuries ago. Intent on recreating home wherever they went, the British carved out the city on luxurious lines. The barracks, buildings, stables, churches and homes were spaced out: characteristically single-storied, low-slung bungalows standing in the middle of seemingly endless wooded lands. The view from any sufficiently high building will tell you the legacy holds on. The cantonment area is easily marked by its verdant cover, while concrete high-rises dot the rest of the landscape.

Several of Secunderabad’s monuments are linked to its military past. Take the celebrated Secunderabad Club, for instance. Used as a staging area for coaches and buggies, it was where the Resident would break off from his 30 km journey from Hyderabad, refresh himself with a drink or two before moving on to the Residency in Alwal. It became a favoured watering hole for military officers, offering games, refreshment, and when the ladies came, dances and revelry. The Secunderabad Club is still the ultimate embodiment of the good life in the twin cities. The military culture gives way to the social and waiting lists for new memberships can trail into 15 years, and are devoutly sought after.

For a true glimpse of military life, however, you must visit Trimulgherry Fort. Naturally there’s an interesting story attached. This was where British troops dug moats and isolated themselves during the disturbances of the revolt in 1857. What was a temporary camp was made a fort in 1867, with outer walls surrounded by a moat almost three miles in circumference. Once sprinkled with barracks, arsenals, stables, mews, mess houses and military offices, the place is now a military hospital.

There is another place that has many whispered stories to tell: the Military Reformatory in Trimulgherry. Built on the lines of Windsor Castle in white stone, this heritage building that sends shivers down the spines of the more sensitive. Seventy-five bare, whitewashed cells with small windows tell you wordlessly what confinement can mean. Broad stairs become narrow and steeper as you climb the next level. A central room with spikes on the floor must give you some inkling of what’s to come. The steps leading upstairs are narrower still, more treacherous… designed in fact to be inconsiderate. You know then that you are retracing the steps of the 500 men who met their death from the gallows here. The pulleys hang high and the ropes lie limp but they’re ominous. A narrow rectangle aperture reveals the spikes below. Even further up is the roof, which tells you why this building is called ‘the Ironic Crown of Secunderabad’ – a round tower with crenellations rises tall out of the rocky ground, imperious and crown-like, promising sure punishment for treachery and insubordination.

Secunderabad has even had a Nobel-winning discovery made in its limits at what is now called the Sir Ronald Ross Institute of Parasitology. This building in Begumpet is about 120 years old, and was first a hospital for the 19th Madras Infantry. Ronald Ross, a Regimental Medical Officer for local troops also conducted research on his own time, walking along the Hussain Sagar every evening, collecting mosquitoes to examine. Ross solved his riddle of malaria transmission finally on August 20 1897.


Old churches and bell towers abound in Secunderabad. Remnants of an older era, they live side by side with newer erections. This isn’t a city that dwells on its past, not even as much as it should, but still, during road widening, the old places are left untouched as much as possible, creating bottlenecks but suffered nevertheless.

In character, Secunderabad is more cosmopolitan than its twin. It receives outsiders from the southern states, houses a large Anglo-Indian population, and a significant number of Parsis. Secunderabad also has a clutch of Christian missionary schools, which till a decade or so ago were the only recourse for parents looking to educate their children well. Hyderabadi urdu is spoken here but not quite in the same way it is across the Hussain Sagar.

Modern Secunderabad is a laid back place. Not big on nightlife, but fond of its movies. In these days of multiplexes, Sangeet Cinema on SD Road is holding valiantly on, still dispensing its famous vegetable sandwiches and thronged by Secunderabadis who’re driven there as much by loyalty as convenience.

These people also love to shop. If the markets around Charminar feed life there, James Street is the hub of this side of town. The narrow labyrinthine roads of General Bazaar are legendary for getting lost in, but one thorough chakker will yield everything from gardening spades to fancy buttons. A little up the street, near Park Lane, is a slightly different market, where it isn’t at all unusual to see people leaving computer hardware shops laden with keyboards and assorted wires, or tottering under the weight of newly acquired computer systems and monitors. Secunderabadis are very fond of their chaats. Roadside stalls are ubiquitous but you must eat from chaatwallahs near the James Street police station. Bhel puri or ragda washed down with pani puri will do very well.

Secunderabad doesn’t really crave a separate identity and doesn’t fuss about being the lesser twin: the benign pace simply doesn’t call for a more vigorous stance. With not a single jingo in the lot, people are quite happy to called Hyderabadi. Still, when you live here, you know. You’re a Hyderabadi from Secunderabad and that’s a different thing.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Pokes head out of burrow

Startled to receive condolences and RIPs for this blog. Only surfaced to say, not so gone as all that. Hibernating merely, be back.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

promises, promises

Awww, my wee li'l world-cup-orphan bloggy... not much longer, buttercup, mommy'll be back to look after you soon.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Travel website ran a contest recently – the application process was simple and I shot off my entry, just like that, chumma. The prize was Rs 50000 with 15 days and 7 destinations to spend it on. Turns out they meant it after all, because I’ve been shortlisted. *Jig*

There’s a profile of moi up here. Go see.

The winner was announced yesterday: Apurv Pandit. I met several of the contestants on Saturday in Mumbai and it was the most fun. We were rather tempted to pick a route and take off en masse.
Apurv is an engineering chappie-turned-writer, and is a dedicated traveller. He has visited nearly every major tiger santuary in the country and edits Cool guy.
Congrats, Apurv! We'll be tracking you, Tiger Tracker.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Splendid Secunderabad

Secunderabad has been celebrating like mad this past week. 200 years of existence and all. Almost everyone has succumbed to the ‘apna shahar, manaooru’ sentiment and attended at least a concert or an army display or something.

The Vyas involvement extended to:

1) Concert by Karunya and Hemachandra, former being runner up in Indian Idol II and the latter a close finisher in the Sa re ga ma pa Challenge 2005 contest. Both chaps sing brilliantly and they’re cousins, what’s more, so we went really hoping to hear them sing together.
Summary: Karunya was seriously good and quite people-savvy – constant banter, new songs and likesuch. Hemu was disappointing – sang three songs, none of them Telugu, which didn’t go down well with the audience. Still, he apparently dashed in and out just for the concert, so perhaps he simply wasn’t as prepared.

2) Heritage tour of Secunderabad, which was a revelation. I had no idea we had so many monuments. Three churches, one mosque, one Parsi dharmashala, two hospitals and a jail in one morning.

3) Splendid Secunderabad Run, which gave me a headache that hasn’t fully gone.
Please allow me to rant here about celebrity latecomers in general and Mr Megastar Chiranjeevi in particular. First, it is not being from Secunderabad – why call it? Second, run was scheduled at 7.00, so people gathered at 6.30. Megastar not arriveth. Organisers show dismal lack of consideration for 10,000-odd people gathered and wait for one man. Some enthu runners set off and were hauled back so they could be flagged off. So we simply flagged while we waited. Man finally shows at almost 8.00, makes matters worse by talking for a goodish time. What was a benign sun had by now turned a little ferocious.

Flag-off happened and chaos ensued. Apparently, the organisers had their finger on the pulse of the public after all: many morons are in fact interested only in the Megastar. As runners tried to get cleanly away, hundreds moved in the opposite direction towards the podium. Groups were torn asunder and women had a rather uncomfortable time of it. The run wasn’t particularly scenic and we finished in less than an hour and went off to breakfast and Pokiri.

Regrets: missing the Hariharan concert, which turned out fabulous, as well as Pt Jasraj and co and Daler Mehndi. Still, one cannot have everything, no?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Thoreau-ly impressed

Aasheesh Pittie writes a heart-felt piece on the purifying effects of reading Thoreau on Urban Babblers. His post fired off many thoughts/reminiscences and I’ve put them down somewhat incoherently in this post.

Being rather wordy, me, these days.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Koi Mir bhi tha

'Mir' dariya hai, sune sher zabaani uski
Allah allah re tabiyat ki ravaani uski

In this post, I’d mentioned in passing, Mir Taqi Mir’s ghazal Patta patta boota boota, and commenter Prashant asked if I could help decode it.

I have no authority whatsoever deconstructing Urdu poetry. All I have is love for the form and a few years of listening put away. There is no Urdu in my background, no cultural well to draw from, no teachers: what I have is absorbed very much from the public space. In fact, when I started off, I struggled to find anyone at all who'd help me understand some of the material I came across, a little of which I talked about in this post.

So it felt presumptuous to try translate Mir, and perhaps, interpret him. On the other hand, I thought it would be a challenge and well, fun. So with trepidation, and an awareness that this will fall short of many standards, I’m putting up a translation of sorts of Patta patta boota boota.

This is a long ghazal with, as far as I can discover, eleven shers; there may be more. Only three or four are popular with singers and I hadn’t come across a few of these before.

Patta patta, boota boota, haal hamaaraa jaane hai,
Jaane na jaane gul hi na jaane, baagh to saaraa jaane hai

Every leaf and every shrub here knows of my state
It is the flower that is unaware, but all the bower knows

Aage us mutkabbar ke ham Khuda Khuda kiya karte hain,
Kab maujud Khuda ko woh maghrur khud-aara jaane hai

We prostrated before the arrogant one, called him ‘Khuda’
In the name of God, what does that insolent one know of Him

Aashiq saa to saada koi aur na hoga duniya mein,
Ji ke zian ko ishq mein uske apna waara jaane hai.

There is no one in the world quite as naïve as a lover
The squandering of his heart he sees as ecstasy

Chaaragari beemari-e-dil ki rasm-e-shahr-e-husn nahin,
Warna dilbar naadaan bhi is dard ka chaara jaane hai

It is not their way, to heal: these denizens of the city of love
Yet even the innocent ones know the cure to a sick heart

Mehr-o-wafa-o-lutf-o-inaayat, ek se waaqif in mein nahin,
Aur to sab kuch tanz-o-kanaya, ramz-o-ishaara jaane hai

Not one here knows of kindness, loyalty, grace or generosity
Cruelty, sarcasm, mockery and taunts, of these they know

Aashiq to murda hai hamesha ji uthta hai dekhe use,
Yaar ke aa jaane ko yakaayak umr do baara jaane hai

He is but a corpse, the lover, but see! he lives again
She has come of a sudden and it is another lease on life

Kya kya fitne sar par uske laata hai maashooq apnaa
Jis bedil betaab-o-tavaan ko ishq ka maaraa jaane hai

What disasters our lover brings down on his own head,
That restless, listless soul we had given up as lost

Tashna-e-khun hai, apna kitna ‘Mir’ bhi naadaan, talkhi-kash,
Damdaar aab-e-tegh ko uske aab-e-gawara jaane hai

Parched for blood he is, and ‘Mir’ the simpleton
Thinks the sharp edge of a blade an elixir
As I see it, the play here is on the word ‘aab’ which can mean a knife’s sharp edge as well as cool waters.

There are three other shers and they are beyond me, so what I’m going to do is just supply what the words mean by themselves and leave it to someone else to tell us what Mir meant:
Yaahi shikaar-farebi par magroor hai woh sayyad bachcha
Ta'er udte hawa men saare apni ussaara jaane hai
[Yaahi = this; shikaar = prey; farebi = deceitful; magroor = arrogant; sayyad = hunter; ussara = limitless, endless]
Rakhnon se deewaar-e-chaman ke munh ko le hai chipaa ya'ani
Un suraakhon ke tuk rahne ko sou ka nazaaraa jaane hai
[rakhna = gap; deewar-e-chaman = garden wall; suraakh = hole, aperture; sou = ?; souq?]
Lagne na de bas ho to uske gohar-e-gosh ke baale tak
Usko falak chashm-e-mai-o-khor ki teetli ka taaraa jaane hai
[gohar = pearl; gosh = ear; baale = earring; falak = sky; chashm = eye; mai = wine]
Mir at his most convoluted. An earring, a pearl, a winejar and a star in the sky - there are all these elements; and whether Mir means to see a pearl hanging from an earlobe through the spout of a winejar and perceives it as a star in the sky, or the other way round, I have no idea. I may add, after reading it a sufficient number of times, I no longer care.

That's that. Often, words in Urdu have diverse interpretations and change chameleon-like in context, so if you’re still determined to decipher all this, this dictionary might help. In fact, I’ll add it to the links on the side bar. It’s organised by pronunciation and doesn’t follow a simple-search-and-throw-up but it grows on you.

Yay, that was fun.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Fanaa yesterday, which I found to be neither very good nor very bad, but best approached with very low expectations.


I particularly liked the chase in the second half. Terrorist Rehan parachute-drops from a plane on to snowy slopes of Poland-as-Kashmir and skis away as the Indian army gives chase. Good-looking top shots of the monochrome silver-white landscape and a racy sequence.


Rishi Kapoor seems to have carved out a niche for himself as Bollywood’s resident lush. And so he is here rarely seen without a drink in hand, being slurred and charming.
His character makes the same mistake many others on celluloid have made: that of approaching a deadly villain with gun in hand and then engaging him in conversation and worse, moving within an arm’s length of aforesaid villain with only a slack hold on aforementioned gun. His daughter makes the very same mistake ten minutes later, confirming that lack of good sense runs in the family.


Subhan Allah sounds a bit like the notes in Desert Rose, nai? whatever… it’s pleasant enough.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Pick one

Choice of you shuts up that peacock-fan
The future was, in which temptingly spread
All that elaborative nature can.
Matchless potential! But unlimited
Only so long as I elected nothing;
Simply to choose stopped all ways up but one,
And sent the tease-birds from the bushes flapping,
No future now. I and you, alone.

So for your face I have exchanged all faces,
For your few properties bargained the brisk
Baggage, the mask-and-magic-man’s regalia.
Now you become my boredom and my failure,
Another way of suffering, a risk,
A heavier-than-air hypostasis.

-Philip Larkin

Only so long as I elected nothing.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Dheemi aanch pe tu zara ishq chadha

My immediate reaction to Rang de Basanti was severe disappointment. So swayed was I by its theme, the build-up of the first half, the immense potential of the story, I was bitter at its eventual derailment. I didn’t dislike it so much as disapproved. Strongly.

Some time has passed, and with it comes moderation. I must admit that my aversion to the experience hasn’t eclipsed the beauty of Prasoon Joshi’s poetry in the film. Fresh, vigorous, spontaneous and so very evocative.

Listening to the songs now makes me realise that the filmmakers were completely seduced by the idea of spilling blood. There simply had to be deaths, multiple deaths, massacres. They were convinced: young alpaayashoos, insane moths flying into the flames; flickering licks of fire roaring into tall flames, young vehshis feeding it with their own selves, offering everything they possess to make one glorious blaze.

aye saala
abhi abhi hua yaqeen
ki aag hai mujh mein kahin
hui subaah, main jal gaya
suraj ko main nigal gaya
roobaroo roshni hai

I’m taken with the images in this piece. The bemused awakening, ‘ki aag hai mujhmein kahin’ is soon put in perspective – this is no ordinary fire in the belly, our young martyrs have swallowed the sun. And of course it will soon consume them:

aandhiyon se jaghad rahi hai lau meri
ab mashaalon si bhad rahi hai lau meri

In Khalbali:
ham lapakte saaye hai
ham sulagne aaye hai
ghar bata ke aaye hai
hai khalbali

we have come to burn,
we have left word at home…
there is no turning back.

Sacrifice, the colour of blood, self-immolation are recurrent themes: jin mein ho junoon junoon woh boonde laal lahoo ki…. Had I heard these pieces with any attention before I saw the film, I wouldn’t have blinked at the bloodbath that ensued.


Aside: AR Rahman who simply gets more and more brilliant with each composition is also a man who knows precisely what he wants. Naresh Iyer, who sings Roobaroo with Rahman, was a contestant in Channel V’s Super Singer. Rahman was one of the judges on the show, and in a very amusing twist, dropped him from the contest and offered him this song. He didn’t sing well enough to make the cut, but he had exactly the voice the composer needed, so that’s that and what’s what.

Monday, May 22, 2006


No tickets to Gangster, so made do with 36 China Town. Not bad actually - acceptable time pass.
No smoking in movies, say the powers-that-be, and Abbas-Mustan find a way around that. hyuk yuk.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Body art

How creative we are being, mon amis, you have no idea – our summer holidays are being spent in genteel pursuits. We are being very much like a cross between kids at summer school and English ladies of yore, who used to occupy their time setting delicate stitches and painting watercolours.
Humble self has made pretty shaded butterfly exactly copied from Vikas’ Learn Watercolour Basic Painting – 1 and 2. As you see, we are still finding Vikas a very reliable instructor in these matters.

And then in what we really consider a triumph (for we are not artistic), mehendi! The hand is reasonably steady and the lines acceptably bareeq! Check out this masterpiece we executed on Shweta’s foot. The head of the peacock as you see is imperfectly done, and we hardly need to tell you this is Shweta’s handiwork – we took a break to have chai and she decided to do her own thing. Oh, and design credit goes to Rupal Pinto.

We have now become very ambitious – scanning the net for more and more intricate designs and have conned children next door into submitting their palms for some posh body art. Next week, we will be knotting fringes and making tapestries, we believe.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Pramod Mahajan (1949 - 2006). Much sadness.
Rajesh Pilot, Madhavrao Scindia and now this man. What's this, a hex on our younger leaders? Dynamic, well-rounded, intelligent, interesting men gone.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Jo dar gaya…

There’s been a drought of Bollywood movies. So acute, I’ve even had to watch Shaadi se pehle because there was nothing else. This week, after quite a while, first day matinee of Darna zaroori hai. I’d watched Darna mana hai and it wasn’t half bad, so I reckoned I could deal with the next in the series. Not bad, I tell you, not at all bad.

Portmanteau film. About half a dozen short horror/thriller stories strung together in some sort of loose (and rather pointless) narrative. Different writers and directors for each short story, and that was the chief attraction for me. To see how directors Sajid Khan, Prawaal Raman (who made the predecessor), Jijy Philip, Manish Gupta, JD Chekravarthy and Ram Gopal Verma handled the shorts. Disappointing, as far as that goes. The segments weren’t as different or characteristic as I hoped – too much RGV looming over each for them to be in any way distinct.

Good performances, though. All of them. I particularly liked the segment Chekravarthy directed – the only one that actually had people chuckle. He managed to create, in twenty odd minutes, characters that engaged us. I think I’ll also remember the one with Mallika Sherawat and Anil Kapoor.

Horror wise? Was I scared? Nah, like a lion I was. I had the forethought to equip myself with a packet of fryums. This superb strategy has its roots in the funda that having your hands engaged in some activity helps detach emotionally from what’s happening around you (therefore smokers and the lady who knitted as heads rolled at the guillotine).

I must share with you the fruits of my research: fryums are boring. They’re shaped like a wheel with many spokes and everything, and I thought at first that they offered much scope for infinite observation but all this peters out very quickly. Limited things. Taste horrible too. Should’ve taken in the gold fingers.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Regressing: The zoo again

I went to the zoo yesterday after several years. There was a time we’d be routinely dragged off there by School on our annual excursions. Not again, we’d groan, but I remember still, waking up with frissons of excitement running up my spine, watching mum pack puliore and chips (which I regarded a high, high treat).

I don’t know why people talk of childhood as a carefree, untroubled time. I wasn’t a carefree child – happy for the most part – but not carefree. I can hardly see any child around me who’s that blissful. Oh, the cares are vague, tied up with a ‘best friend’ who won’t talk, or the attentions of a teacher whose name you won’t remember in ten years or most probably these days, study worries. Then, there are demands the adults make of you – outrageous expectations of perfect behaviour that they fall disgustingly short of themselves. The anxieties are there, the undercurrents of discontent are strong.

My memories of visits to the zoo are vague but I remember worry – vague fears about being left behind, a feeling of being out of my depth. Most distinctly I remember not the animals but falling. It must’ve been the 5th or 6th standard. The rest of the class were chattering around the monkeys when I ran back to the bus to fetch something and fell on a sharp stone. It was a deepish cut and I clambered on to the bus to sit and examine it. The only other person there was Bethina, rummaging her bag for something.
‘I’ve fallen and cut myself. Do you have a hankie or something to bind it?’ I asked her.
She hesitated and shook her head.
I shrugged and took my water bottle down to wash my knee. Bethina followed to investigate. The mud wiped off, the blood began to flow and trickle down my shin. Bethina took in a sharp breath, reached in her pocket and held a handkerchief out resolutely.
I could see why she had hesitated. It was a ‘dad’-sized kerchief, pristine white, lovingly pressed and folded. Picnic special. I too knew the value of such handkerchiefs. I couldn’t take it.
‘Go on, take it,’ she urged me, ‘it’s okay.’
So she bound it into a wad and tied it round my knee and we watched in mutual fascination as the red hurriedly seeped through the white. Nice, satisfactory cut, that one. Later the teacher made a fuss of me. And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, was the zoo.


I went again yesterday and what a change there was in perception. It was a particularly lucky trip, because practically in every enclosure, the animals wandered out to show themselves off. The white tigers played and purred, the lions yawned and blinked at us, the tigers paced, the wolf pranced, the leopards played like kittens. I saw again the Great Indian Hornbill and was utterly fascinated by the pheasants.

White tiger in the moat.

A pair of lions, who seemed rather contemptuous of all the janta peering at them.

Panther (Panthera onca, not pardus) - stockier, heaver than our leopard.

Great Indian Hornbill - really friendly chap.

A peacock that showed off from every angle - he so wouldn't stop turning and doing that lovely frisson thing, we actually had to walk away after fifteen minutes.

Good trip. It’s really nice to be grown up.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Four and other foods

Several several months ago, I was tagged. It was one of those ones – apparently trivial but put together you see that it quite bares your essence. Bit frighteny, but what the heck: 'sees chadaye potli le jaat na dekhya koye'.

These were Gayathri’s demands:
Nine songs I would pick if those were the only pieces I could listen to for the rest of my life
Eight frivolous things that bring me joy
Seven people (dead or alive, real or fictional people that I won’t actually ever meet!) that I would pick to have a 5 minute conversation with
Six best coffee/chai memories
Five best memories of my sister
Four things I could eat anytime, anyplace
Three places I've been to that I want to go back to

As it happens, I’ve done five of the seven: The nine songs, the eight frivolous things, seven people I’d like to meet, six chai/coffee memories, five memories of my sister (in which I didn’t follow the rules). I’ve hovered on the brink of the sixth for months but haven’t done anything about it because with one thing and the other I haven’t been very hungry and I haven’t felt like blogging.

And there is another food tag pending from Nishu: 10 favourite foods. Shall I club the two together then? List four things I could eat anytime, anywhere and then continue with six other favourites?
That sounds ok, because for one, I’m not a foodie, able to write about sapaad in jollu-ootifying terms. Nishu has gone on about her fave foods in this most gastronome fashion: “Croissants and Chausson aux Pommes… Flaky, flaky croissants, with buttery insides eaten with jam… and of course warm chaussons aux pommes - lovely flaky puff types with apple puree/sauce inside.” Now I cannot do this, being simble person with simble tastes. Boring, I’m warning you. Second, of course, I’m vegetarian and that cuts short any possible food list by half.

Here goes. Four things I could eat anywhere, anytime:
· Pasta. Any shape, any sauce, anytime.
· Hot steaming rice, lots of mudda pappu with molten ghee and avakkai. Mosranna to round off. Need nothing else.
· A couple of years ago, I’d have said popcorn. I louued the stuff and wouldn’t share in movie halls. Sadly I’m over it and even offer it voluntarily these days to neighbours. But I still like corn and my current favorite is buttered amercian sweet corn. Yeah.
· Another all time favourite that seems to be fading from the top lists but is here because it hasn’t been replaced with anything else – vegetable manchuria. Sec’bad Club makes a spicy (and I suspect, very desi) version and Sudha is good enough to sign for a plate for me every time.

Six other faves… a very now list:
· I like tamarindy things – my mum’s pulihora, her gojjus (onion gojju, bhindi, even with pineapple and oranges).
· Rice, mor kozhambhu with parupu usuli and sabudaana karudaam
· New addition to lists – karveppillai pickle from Grand Sweets and Snacks. We are running out, alas.
· Another new obsession: Belgian dark chocolate ice cream from Scoops. They were inspired from the movie Salaam Namaste, apparently. Preity Zinta’s character has cravings and they set out in the middle of the night looking specifically for the flavour and so Scoops thought, ‘aha, aisa kya, why not have it on our menu?’ Good for them, coz it’s yummm. Thanks, A’jun ;-).
· Anaar juice – if they have it, I never have anything else. My answer to Nishu’s apple pie and Alina’s nimbu soda.
· Biryani and mirchi ka salan. What to do, Hyderabadi no?

That is that.

I’d said when I started on the nines, that I wouldn’t tag anyone perforce, but I’m very tempted to ask The One to do it – the whole seven shebang. He made out a list recently and he does it soooooooo well.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Roshan jamaal yaar se hai anjuman tamaam

I think there is something about the poetry of Hasrat Mohani that very much appeals to the musician in Mehdi Hassan.

I have always thought setting a ghazal to music a challenging job. To do it well, that is. There are disparate pieces of poetry in one meter and rhyme, sometimes staying in one mood or vein, sometimes not. To bring the poetry forward, to pay due attention to the sher while balancing the ghazal and still be melodious enough to captivate.... There is a ghazal of Mir’s for instance that has not been done justice to in all the recorded versions I’ve heard.
Patta patta boota boota haal hamara jaane hai
Jaane na jaane gul hi na jaane baag to saara jaane hai
Shweta sang this once in a tune of her own, which to my mind was a better, more evocative composition than any of the others.

But I was talking of Hasrat Mohani and Mehdi Hassan. Those acquainted with the Master will know: his career is filled, filled with wondrous offerings. Raspy honey. There are two compositions of Mohani, however, that are extraordinary renditions even by those high standards. Roshan jamaal and Kaise chupaun. Nearly the same raga – not exactly but close – and I love them both.

Kaise chupaun raaz-e-gham… Mehdi Hassan invests this ghazal with such pathos, such meaning. You begin to read between the lines, finding more than there is. The two lines of each sher begin to seem like broad outlines of an intriguing picture and you’re left to colour the fine details in, with whatever lines, hues you please.
Kaise chupaun raaz-e-gham deeda-e-tar ko kya karun
Dil ki tapish ko kya karun soz-e-jigar ko kya karun

Shorish-e-aashiqi kahaan aur meri saadgi kahaan
Husn ko tere kya kahun apni nazar ko kya karun

Gham ka na dil mein ho guzar vasl ki shab ho yun basar
Sab ye qubool hai magar khauf-e-sehar ko kya karun

Haal mera tha jab batar tab na hui tumhen khabar
Baad mere hua asar ab main asar ko kya karun
I’m sorry I couldn’t find this online to link for you, but if you should find a tape or CD with this ghazal on it, take it.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Duniya kare sawaal

Of all the unanswerable questions, there is nothing that renders me dumb like “Why don’t you….” What do you say to that?

Why don’t you start a business
Get married
Undertake steps 1 to 6 to have your freelancing enterprise zip through the stratosphere
Download this or the other software so it’ll change your life
Start a film club

Why don’t I?
Because it didn’t compel me
Because I don’t need it yet
Because I’m ok
Because I’m that man under the tree who was recommended a life of entrepreneurial action just so he could come to the other end of the circle, doing exactly what he was doing – relaxing under a tree.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Ik nukte vich gal mukdi eh*

it strikes me again and again with great force that there is nothing.
nothing to say, no reason to say it
that it is not worth the trouble to do it
when it is all naught
that we will live
and that we will die
and there will be nothing
that I am nothing

then see the wave.
it is useless, of course.
what use could there be
there is this rock and there is this water
still, ceaseless it is
again and again
as if it meant something
there is conviction in the wave’s slap
duty, dharma

it is difficult
to rise from nothing
to gather carefully all the quarks
that make up me
put them together
and become a person

to summon a smile
go about finding
what is needed
from me
and do it

like a child
whose parent has ambitions

*I've borrowed the title from Bulleh Shah. Loose trans.: There comes a point when all talk ends

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Creature on wall

Totally random wasp thing, because Shweta says she's SICK of seeing same old same old on my blog. And you know what, I got a lot of these :-D. Next week, dead snake from recent birding outing.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Jago Grahak Jago


Man is standing at the counter humming and tapping as the shopkeeper tallies purchases and bags them.
Man hands over a hundred-rupee note and walks away.
Suddenly (probably) cold water is splashed on his face. Man is startled.


Man is facing another shorter man, with a plastic bottle in his hand. Water thrower stares back defiantly. Raises bottle and splashes Man again.

Realisation dawns.

Oh! Thank you

Man walks back to counter.

Oye! Bill!

(grimacing in ‘damn, another customer alerted!’ way)

Fade to:
Jago Grahak Jago

He he

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Totally soofi, dude

Went to Ruhaniyat last weekend – ‘a festival of a Sufi and Mystic music’. Event organisers Banyan Tree have been doing quite a bit for classical music this past decade and this festival devoted to sufi and mystic music is into its second year.

Mind-expanding stuff. Strictly speaking, the two-day event was more about performing arts than music per se. The people behind Ruhaniyat have managed to source and put together a fascinating set of traditions that are interesting by themselves but when juxtaposed give you this sense that India is indeed a many many layered thing and leave you to wonder how much more there is. Has anyone, anyone at all a grasp on the whole of it?

Just to give you a sample of the smorgasbord on offer:

Tibetan monks with mystic chants. Mostly sounds from what I could make out… sonorous, droney and calculated to work on your nadis or psychic nerve centres.

Shastanpaattu. Quirky chanting tradition from Kerala, which goes on all night in temples apparently. There is storytelling but the odd part is each singer sings in a different pitch. Bit startling at first but you get into the stride of things and you find yourself listening to distinct voices but together in a way that should be discordant but isn’t. We wondered about why people might have thought this a good thing to do and one of the reasons might be simply, concentration. To continue in one pitch when the person next to you is singing another requires a surprising amount of self-belief and a sense of your purpose. We tried it at home with cacophonous results.

Then there were the Jagars from Uttaranchal. I was really taken with this. Singers from this community are apparently called in when lots of things go wrong with a household… too many calamities, deaths, illnesses. The singers come and sing the jagars; it goes on till one member of the household becomes possessed and then questions are posed and answers are sought.
These artistes from the Himalayas, with their typical mountain voices, were so good. They rounded off with the hanthya jagar – sung especially for those who die young, I believe. They sang of Abhimanyu, whose spirit they say resides in Uttaranchal.

The Baul Movement. The Bauls of Bengal are very in at the moment. Wandering mendicants who sing. (I’ve always wanted to use ‘mendicant’... hee hee). The Bauls were generously sprinkled through the entire event. There was Parvathy Baul, dreadlocked sadhvi with a sweet gaspy voice, star of the ensemble.
But the others were most endearing. Old, learned men with almost-breaking folk voices, ek taras and small dhols. They sang, jumped, circled and danced, as frisky as four-year-olds and seemingly as innocent.
Something else about the Bauls that struck me. While the rest of the Sufis liberally use dariya and samandar as metaphors, these chaps like to be factual, technical even. What do they sing about? The subtle energy field. The charkas are described, we are asked to beware ‘the upturned lady’ in the mooladhara, coiled 3½ times. There is talk of sushumna, ida and pingala, and the lord who resides between your eyes, rhyme be damned.

There were other, more mainstream performers also: singers from Rajasthan, and an all-woman troupe from Assam who dripped honey and at least four groups of qawwals, who were the most disappointing feature.

From the perspective of anthropology/musicology, the festival offered much variety. But it achieved another thing for me – it expanded notions of what music must be and what it can be even outside the narrow confines of what we’re taught is melody. Glad I went, really.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

On loop

Somebody pleeeeze give me a new song to hum…

right here, right now
hai bebasi (?) ka sama..
something something, hum tum yahaan
reh na jaaye baat baaqi

never gonna let you go, girl
nah nah na na
never gonna let you go


Saturday, February 18, 2006


Taken a few weeks ago at ICRISAT.

I look up from work and usually see this:

Worm's eye view

Friday, February 17, 2006


It’s a worrying schedule for the next few days – I want to travel next month and that means double quick on existing deadlines. I’m editing a research book, and the next proofs are in. I mean to check and sign the pages off today. As it is, I’m stealing time from another piece that needs to be done by next week.

It’s never as smooth as you expect. The footnote styles are awry and one table has gone missing. The system I’m allotted doesn’t have the fonts it needs, so I’m shooting in the dark and hoping to hit six sigma. As my father philosophised only yesterday, rework is a fact of life.


Lunch break is better. This research institute is a beautiful spot, and a birder’s paradise. Absolutely the best thing I like about coming here is seeing the horizon. So much room… unhindered by ugly buildings, wires. Sight can soar, choosing to alight and sharpen on anything at all, from my palm to infinity.

Lunch is heavy and I’m drowsy. It’s a golden red sun but I walk on a bit in the open. Across the grass, beyond the clump of eucalyptus, are four trees standing together in a rough square. The branches are jostling for space and the shade is nicely dark. I look about for the softest patch of grass I can find and sink into it. The banyan tree just across is full of birdcalls and twitters. A few mynahs and drongos I notice, but for once, I’m not too fussed about pinning a species on the rest. They’re there and that’s enough. Just lie there, with the breeze stirring my dupatta, and be autumn leaved upon.

I’m thinking, I like trees. It’s pathetic, really – I just see one with character, or even without, and I fall in love. We have a few at home, and I feel strongly for each one. The guava is dying. That’s not how I want it, a few tree acquaintances. I want so many I don’t notice them anymore. I want a forestful so I can take them for granted, so familiar as to almost breed contempt. I want to be able to rest one afternoon and forget the next day which one it was that protected my slumber.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Talk to me

I received a few reproaches when I disabled comments a few weeks ago. I’m sorry -- didn’t mean to shut you out and it was always going to be for a very little while. I’ve met such wonderful people through blogging, and commentspaces are such fun, I’d be daft not to want that.

I disabled comments to help myself write right. I don’t mean writing per se (that’s a cake that either rises or not, depending) but the attitude. Somehow my readers, ­­real and imagined, had crept into the process, looking over my shoulder as I typed. And it’s my feeling that writing, particularly random writing of this sort, is best done for oneself, to please oneself. By switching off comments, I was wanting to write more honestly… to create for myself a sense of isolation. This is one of those psychological games one plays with oneself, somewhat akin to setting your watch ten minutes faster and then making mental adjustments every time you look at it.

It has helped, I think. I’ve learnt the trick and don’t need the prop.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Baju band khul khul jaave

You must hear this girl sing. Her name is Himani Kapoor, a 17-year-old from Faridabad, Haryana. One of the finalists in Zee TV’s famous Sa re ga ma pa Challenge 2005. Many thought she’d be the one to win it, but she was ousted a couple of weeks ago in a controversial upset. Anyway, that’s beside the point – her mentor on the show, Aadesh Srivastava, gets her to sing in Kalpana Lajmi’s latest, Chingaari.

Srivastava, as those of you that follow the show will know, dotes on his disciple. Given Bollywood’s music climate, not to mention the fierce competition the show generated among the four gharanas, you’d think he’d have given Himani one of those racy numbers sure to climb the charts. Instead he showcases her voice lovingly in this thumri, Jab jab saiyyan.

It’s a surprisingly mellow song, slow, deliberate, old fashioned. No gimmickry, no ‘look-at-me-I’m-so-good’, just over six minutes of contained, soul-grasping song. Listening to it has me convinced this is one of those all-in-one-take deals, because Himani has only a sarangi and tabla accompanying her, and it’s a free flowing, fluidly-rendered piece. Almost like listening to someone do their morning riyaaz.
I’ve heard Himani sing before, so although she impresses, that’s no surprise. But I am rather struck with Srivastava’s maturity; with his choice of song for his ward’s debut and the way he composes it.

The link is here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

What I did

Sorry for all this silence… been busy, been ill, yada yada. Most importantly, no mindspace. RAM taken up with stoopid commonplace concerns, not worth spending even more time over. These are not the things I will be looking back to remember, but it is these that occupy me now, cramping me.

Still, the last month has not been without joy. I found diamonds on this lake – water is always hypnotic, but moving over water, with the sun splintered a few thousand glorious ways… I couldn’t take my eyes off. Good trip.

Then suddenly one night a couple of weeks ago, I heard crickets. We used to hear them every night when we were kids – I don’t remember when that stopped, but there they were chirruping over a lull in television noise. Much delight.

Watched Rang de Basanti. The first half lovingly gathers half a dozen characters, tells us who they are, why they are the way they are, what pleases them, what bothers them. The second half takes a blunt instrument and pounds them to pulp. In the interests of decency, there is a limit to the vitriol one can pour out, so I will just say that this was one of the most irresponsible movies I’ve seen in a while. If this was an opportunity to address the youth of this country (at a time, moreover when they are unusually receptive) this movie distastefully squanders it. Very disappointing. Best stick to formula stuff.

Went to the Hyderabad numaish, good afternoon out with cousins.

Whisky didn’t do the trick. Silly idea in the first place.

Now you know.