Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Green Lovers, Welcome

I met Madhavi Chandan who runs a plant boutique from her Koregaon Park residence. Her potted plants can be good gifts.
Following is the interview, which I did for a daily.

From outside the walls, the garden looks ordinary — a swing, a few potted plants and a patch of grass. It’s only when you step into Madhavi Chandan’s tiny green space, you’ll wonder how she’s accommodated a whole lot of things — a bird house, a bird feeder, an artificial waterfall, ceramic swans, frog pavers and a cast iron stand full of plants, containers, ceramic and fabricated planters and fibre barks!
The answer’s simple: Space is never a constraint for her. Madhavi can work on the tiniest space and transform it into a beautiful garden.
That’s the whole idea — to make use of the smallest space! Not many people today can afford a big home, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a green corner! Which is why I have come up with bottle and vertical gardens and so on,” says the owner of Naturecraft, a tastefully-decorated plant boutique.
Madhavi, who has always been fond of plants, decided to pursue a course in ‘Garden and Nursery Development’ after her green corner was featured in a newspaper. “My family said that I should capitalise on my potential. So after 15 years of marriage I joined Fergusson College to do a short course,” adds Madhavi, who has now graduated to landscaping. Landscaping takes up a lot of her time, but she is not ready to give up her first love: Bottled plants.
I prefer gifting family and friends bottled plants or plant bouquets because they last longer as compared to conventional flower bouquets, which lose their charm once the flowers wither. Bottled plants made of bamboo or ferns make perfect gifts because you need not water them daily,” she says and smiles. However, most people prefer exotic plants like anthuriums, petunias, poinsettias and gerberas. Orchids are the latest favourites, because the bottled plant lives for about three months.
As Madhavi deftly works on a fibre bark at her studio, she says, “I can make a plant bouquet in one hour or a week, depending on the theme. I always keep 40-50 designs ready, so I can attend to last-minute requests of my clients.” Her customised bouquets cost anywhere between Rs 1,000 and Rs 50,000, depending on the client’s budget and the occasion — like bhai dooj, birthdays and anniversaries.
So what’s her favourite theme? We ask the ‘green lady’. “Honestly, I have no favourite theme, but I try to sneak in a toy bird in the decoration as often as possible. This way I try to raise awareness about ecology and the decreasing number of birds in the city. I also try to use coconut planters because they are eco-friendly and readily available,” Madhavi promptly replies.
On her travels abroad and within the country, she often comes back with coconut shells, planters, pots, quirky stands, animal designs, etc. “They all come in handy when I am designing a plant bouquet. Nothing goes waste,” says she and adds, “Some of the travel souvenirs also double up as garden artifacts.”
If you are interested in designing your own green space or attending her workshops on vertical gardening and bottled gardens, call Madhavi on 9371022100. But before you begin, read up about plants, keep innovating and most importantly, develop an eye for aesthetics.

Spreading festive warmth

Ratna Khurana makes candles alongwith her sister. I met Ratna at her house, where she was busy sorting out candles and packing them in gift boxes.
Following is the article I wrote on her.


Immersed in work, Ratna Khurana busily gift-wraps the handcrafted assorted candles so that they reach her clients just in time for Diwali. Adept at candle making, Ratna has been exploring this art for more than a decade now, but it’s been just a year that she’s set
up shop.
Talking about her enterprise Candle N Beyond, which she started along with her sister Yogita Lal, Ratna says, “It’s just been one year since we got into the business. But, we have been making candles for 12 years now. I did a basic candle-making course, in
which I learnt how to heat and colour the wax.”
But what kept the duo going was their energy to explore and their passion to create exotic candles. Quips Ratna, “I was always inclined towards the art of candle making because candles are universally associated with festivities, serenity and worship. They
create a special warmth and ambience! And, of course they are affordable!”
What you appreciate most when you see their candles is the flawless finish.
It requires a lot of practice and passion to create each candle. But more importantly, what makes a beautifully-finished candle is the quality of the mould, wax and wick. And of course, we also have a few trade secrets for the mix and techniques of our candles,”
says Ratna with a smile.
Both the sisters are working hard to make their venture successful. But more precisely, Yogita is working as the creative head. “Yogita comes up with the design and then we execute the design, the mould and finally the candles. Designing, moulding and execution takes a lot of time.”
Candle N Beyond’s first products were fl oating candles, which Ratna says, take about 30 minutes to make. The big terracotta pots take up to 10 days. The prices also vary accordingly. Small floaters are available at Rs 10, while terracotta pots are sold for
Rs 2,500.
For festivals like Diwali, we have to prepare much in advance. It takes almost
eight months to get the special and unique candles ready,” adds Ratna.
This year, they are planning to introduce tealight candle holders, which are very much in vogue.
Candles are mostly associated with festivals like Diwali and Christmas, but they are getting increasingly popular.
We are seeing a big change in the demand. Candles are now being considered perfect gifts for weddings, anniversaries, housewarmings and birthdays. Also, a major chunk of our orders comes from clients who specialise in home d├ęcor, spas and hotels,”
says Ratna.
Another reason for its growth is that candles can be customised as per the client’s budget.
We get a lot of unique requests like ‘Ganesha’, which is not a candle but aromatic wax. It’s my favourite,” she says while flashing an infectious smile.
To brighten your home and order some festive candles this Diwali, call Ratna on 9665590909.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Neetu Bhatia on e-ticketing

I interviewed Neetu Bhatia, co-founder and Chairman of 
Excerpts from the interview. It was carried in a daily which has special pages dedicated to female readers 

a) What does Kyazoonga stand for?
Kyazoonga — Jump the Q, stands for seamless experience for the end customers when it comes to buying tickets for an entertainment or sporting event in the country. It’s a name, which would initially stand out as a recall factor, but once an association has been established, Kyazoonga would guarantee a hassle-free experience.

b) Why an online ticketing store? And, why cater to only entertainment and sporting events?
My brother Akash, who is also the co-founder of Kyazoonga came up with this idea when he was on a holiday here. He was taken aback to find that bookings for a movie/ play could be done only in person or on telephone. He called me up and asked if I was game for setting up an online ticketing store in India. I agreed and in April 2007 we started our operations in Delhi and Mumbai. We focussed on entertainment and sports because they are anti-recessionary products. Movies are a big thing here and so is sports, especially cricket. These will be our core services, and anything that adds value to our customers, say, merchandising, we’ll take up.

c) Was there any opposition from the conventional mindset?
Change is accepted when there is a compelling value-proposition attached with it. If the end users — the customers / consumers — are going to be benefited, most of them are willing to make changes in how things work. Companies, who understand their business and future growth, will take full advantage of such changes.
I feel e-ticketing is the way forward, because it’s a very democratising exercise. Tickets are delivered at your doorstep; one doesn’t have to drive around the city finding a parking spot, or spend long hours in the queue. We are cash-rich but time-poor, so e-ticketing is here to stay!

d) Will physical stores/ retailers lose out to e-stores?
Stores won’t go away but they will have to reinvent themselves. At the moment, physical retailing isn’t the nicest of experience. Store hands might not be knowledgeable enough or they might not be considerate to your needs. But, with online competition, physical stores might brush up their act.
Also in a bid to woo customers, online stores (for example, book stores) are offering great incentives and discounts. This will eventually lead to rationalising of prices.

e) Do you think online ticketing would reduce black-marketeering?
It would definitely check and minimise black-marketeering. But it’s not something that would go away immediately.

f) As far as e-commerce is concerned, where does India figure on the world map?
E-commerce in India is bound to grow. With just 9 per cent Internet penetration, we still have a long way to go. China is much ahead of us.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Making Mandalas with Julia

I wrote this under the "wellness" section for the Sunday supplement.

An event notification on Vkontakte, a Russian social networking site, intrigued Julia Kazarina. The event invited everyone to attend a workshop on weaving mandalas or Ojos de Dios (Eyes of God) and therapy.
I was surprised to know that one can weave a mandala. I knew that we could draw them, or create them from coloured sand, stones and shells. I found weaving a mandala intriguing and new, so I decided to attend it. Three days after the workshop I started to weave them non-stop. Thenceforth it became my life,” says Julia.
Julia, who recently held a workshop on mandala weaving in Pune, explains the art of Ojo (pronounced as Oho).

Ancient roots
Weaving Ojos de Dios is an ancient art practised by native Indian tribe called Huichol, in Mexico. However, similar art forms are practised in other parts of the world like Namka in Tibet and God’s Eye in ancient Russia. “According to the Huichol Indians, the Ojo, an amulet, protects their households from evil spirits. Today the Ojo has acquired more meaning. For instance, the geometry in the Ojo mandalas is mesmerising, a person can look at it and meditate,” says the 34-year-old.
After Julia started to weave the mandalas, she felt it would be appropriate to make small mandalas with semi-precious stones, which act as amulets. Stones have various properties and carry certain energies, and in a mandala design, they work really well.

Heart over mind
Julia, who has been practising it for two and half years now, says Ojo has made her calmer and wiser. “I have had some powerful insights during weaving. Any time I have a problem or a question I cannot find an answer to, I make a mandala. During or after the process, I find the solution to what’s troubling me,” she says.
During the workshop, Julia encourages the participants to get into the state of active meditation — a state when a person gets so involved in the process, he/she forgets everything else. “This is also the state, when a connection with the soul is established. How their face shines and beams with joy! In this exercise, I advise them to listen to their heart over mind, even when it comes to choosing colours for their art. Our heart is our true guide and we need to be in constant touch with it,” smiles Julia.

In the workshops
A mandala can be made from 2-3 sticks depending on the shape and some wool. One can also add shiny threads, ribbons, beads. “The workshop,” says Julia, “can range from 4 to 8 hours. An 8-sided mandala can be made in four hours, but I stretch it to 5 hours, so that the participants don’t feel the pressure.”

India beckons
A year ago, Julia felt the “India pull”. The feeling of visiting India gripped her, and when she started getting invitations to hold workshops, Julia was convinced that the mandalas were pulling her to India.
Pic Courtesy: Julia Kazarina. Julia with her students
I was 13 when I visited Goa and felt the instant connection — this was ‘My Place, My Home’. When I visited other cities in India, I thought I could help the Indians in easing their stress, health concerns and private fears through the mandalas. It is one means amongst several others. When people start creating, they develop insight, they do become calmer, and do change their lives,” she concludes.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Of American Dreams and Indian Realities

I met Meghna Pant last month when she had come to Pune to promote her debut novel, "One & A Half Wife". This interview was filed for a women's supplement.

She juggles numbers and words with equal ease. Her day begins as the deputy editor of a business magazine in Dubai, and at night she escapes into the world of literature. Meghna Pant, first-time novelist, admits that it’s crazy working from day into the night, but wouldn’t like to change her schedule one bit. “My day job and the stories that I write, when I get back home, are both very dear to me. I can’t choose between them,” Meghna, who was in the city to promote her book One & A Half Wife, said.
Talking about her “baby,” the 31-year-old business journalist said, “The idea for the novel germinated when I returned to India from the US where I was working with the Bloomberg. India had changed in the two years that I was away — right from the expensive onions to the mushrooming malls on every street. It took a while relating to this new India. This feeling of disconnect is one of the main subplots of the novel.”
The book, said Meghna, mirrors a lot of social realities and changing norms. “It begins with every Indian’s dream — to go abroad, specifically the US. It’s an immigrant story, but it doesn’t focus so much on the first and second generation immigrants. There are many who have gone to study and then look for a job. This novel delves into that space and the fact that dreams go sour.”
It’s the story of Amara Malhotra, who migrates to the US when she’s almost 15 and is brought up by her parents as the quintessential Indian girl in an American city. “It’s a clash of ideas, images and the old world vs new world,” Meghna shared. That gets us talking about values or institutions from the old world. What about marriage? Is the idea still strong in today’s times? “It is important for us. In the novel, Amara’s marriage fails, but that doesn’t embitter her towards the idea of getting married again,” Meghna said.
One wonders if Meghna, who’s portrayed Amara as docile and eager to please and then as a spirited woman entrepreneur, knows the world of her character first hand. “I have known Amara’s world in the US — how close-knit the Indian-American community is — and the glamour associated with living there. I have also stayed in India pre and post globalisation.”
What next?” we asked her. “My next novel is going to be a dark comedy. And my protagonist this time will be an old man. I might also bring out a compilation of my short stories which have appeared in publications in the US and UK,” smiled Meghna.
Isn’t she considering a book on the booming economy going bust? “I treasure my nightly escape to the world of literature... but I end with ‘Never say Never’,” she signed off.

Meeting Mrs G

This is the unedited piece I wrote for a women's supplement.

I’m sorry, I have to take Mr G’s call. I’ll talk to you later,” P cut short our chat.
One Sunday, P splashed some water on his face to wash away the signs of the afternoon siesta and took to the wheels. He was to drive Mr and Mrs G to Mumbai.
A few months later, he went to pick up Mr and Mrs G’s daughter from the airport.
The Gs were always a priority with my husband. And, when I met them a few months later, I realised why.
A weary-looking Mr G opened the door and on seeing us, his eyes sparkled behind his lenses and he burst into a wide smile.
His thin, bony hands pulled us into the living room where a disheveled Mrs G was sitting.
Arrre tu...” (Oh! It’s you!) she smiled at my husband.
Mr G exhaled a sigh of relief and nodding in P’s direction, said, “It’s a good sign that she recognises you.”
Aani..hi kon? (Who’s this?)”, she asked looking at me.
She’s my wife,” P answered.
Chhan (Nice)”, she remarked.
Meanwhile, Mr G had made lemonade, cut some fruits and offered to us.
After sipping some lemonade and coaxing Mr G to get her some chatpata stuff, Mrs G offered to show me around their flat.
Antique furniture dotted the three-bedroom flat, walls were covered with paintings and folk art.
Lovely,” I remarked.
Mrs G smiled and said, “This painting was done by my daughter Urr...Urmila. She stays at...”
Mrs G suddenly looked very helpless. As if trying to make sense of the sudden bolts of comprehension playing hide and seek in her mind.
Mr G, and P, who had followed us in the bedroom, mock-scolded his wife, “Aga ashi kashi visartes tu? He kay visraycha asta ka?” (Trust you to forget such details. Not done)
Urmi stays in Bangalore,” this was for me.
Mrs G then turned to go to the living room, while Mr G smiled genially in my direction. I couldn’t help noticing his over-bright eyes, brimming with unshed tears.
In the living room, Mrs G smiled at P and asked, “When did you come? And, who is this girl?”
Before he could reply, she exclaimed, “She’s wearing mangalsutra. Are you married?”
Her next sentence was an instruction to Mr G, “Get me haldi-kunku. She has come home for the first time.”
When he got her the haldi-kunku, she asked him, “Why have you got this?”
I answered her by touching her feet and asked for blessings.
I'm P’s wife. You didn’t come for the wedding, so we have come to meet you.”
Oh! Mr G, you forgot about the invite. Now let me welcome the new bride,” she smiled, smoothing down the pleats of her sari.
When we took their leave, Mr and Mrs G smiled and said, “PunhaYa (Come again).”
We try and meet them once a month and on every occasion, I am introduced and welcomed as a new bride.
You see, Mrs G suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Frankly Yours, Milind Gunaji

A man who wears many hats – engineer, poet, writer, actor, model, photographer, and documentary-maker – Milind Gunaji's down-to-earth charm and candid confessions at a recent event succeeded in adding to his admirers.
Milind, who was in the city on Friday at the book reading session of Meghna Pant's debut novel, “One & A Half Wife”, frankly admitted to the audience that he hadn't had time to read the book beforehand. To correct the folly, Milind settled down for an informal chat with Meghna to understand the story before reading out from the novel.
While discussing the various themes of the book – fortune-tellers, recession, East vs West – Milind revealed that he could read and prepare horoscopes very well, but didn't believe in road-side fortune tellers.
I was told by one such fortune-teller that I would make a good politician. I don't want to test the accuracy of his statement by plunging into politics. I am drawn to mysticism and spirituality than the fortune-tellers with their parrots in tow,” he says.
The actor, who swears by Indian culture and family values, is also learning new age concepts like “giving space.”
My son is studying to be an engineer. We have certain ground rules, apart from that he's free to do what he wants. I don't levy my ideas on him, much as I would like to,” says the father in him.
Exchanging their ideas and tips on writing process, Milind who has penned six books, says that writing, especially poetry, is a catharsis for him.
Writing travelogues takes a little effort, but poetry is very easy. I sit with pen and paper and the words flow,” says Milind, who loves reading poems of Ga Di Madgulkar, Bahinabai Chaudhari and Ba Bha Borkar.
Milind, who's now working on the video version for his collection of poems – Man Pakhrache Hoi – quickly recited a few lines on “Mala” (attic or the loft) which is included in the collection.
He also shared his plans of tying up with Maitreyi Mass Media, and directing a movie called, “Malak” with them. It will highlight the lives of lavani artistes. Milind is also in talks with Umesh Kulkarni of Deool and Walu fame for producing his next venture.
Talking of various mediums and their synergy, Milind says that, “Strong content is a must for all. A book will sell only if it has strong story, a film will work if it has a strong script. We need good stories to make great movies, so we need good writers. A strong publishing market can infuse vigour in the filmdom,” he observed.
As a parting shot, he urged Meghna to include her mugshot on the book jacket because “ the readers are able to connect with her” and to the audience, Milind promised that he would finish reading the novel that night at his farmhouse in Khandala. That's frank Milind Gunaji for you!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Exquisite Pattachitra art. Pic courtesy: Tilak Shetty, Graphiti
All of us have, sometime or the other, seen wall paintings in Madhubani art, with their rich and eye-catching geometric designs. Now visualise this traditional folk art form in an animated film for children. Mind-boggling isn’t it?
The man behind this imagery, Tilak Shetty, director of Krish,Trish and Batliboy II, has picked popular folk-tales and brought them alive on the big screen using this medium of art.
Tilak, who was at the inauguration of the two-day Children’s Film Fest held in the city recently, confesses that he cannot draw or paint “to save his life” and hence, chose this medium because “someone has to archive and document our folk history for posterity. And, films assure you of that,” he says.
A Commerce graduate, Tilak also dabbled in computer programming before setting up his animation company, Graphiti. He reveals that it is the art that decides the stories. “We first decide on the folk art and then we start researching on the folk-tales of the region. India has around 40 cultural zones; if we pick one artistic style, we also dig out at least three stories to complement it. We have a treasure trove of arts and stories, and it’s fun to blend the two on the screen,” he shares.
The “fun” entails painstaking research on the style, understanding the particular art form’s rules, getting the edits ready, maintaining the continuity — and in case it does not produce the desired results, then starting all over again.
When he started out, Tilak knew just three art styles — Warli, Mughal miniatures and Madhubani. So, this new visual medium “fascinates” him. “I’m learning a lot in the process and am also passing on that knowledge to others. In my animation films, I include a 30-second bit about the history of the art. It is like an introduction, say of leather puppetry from Karnataka to a kid who may be in Bihar. I am using the detailing involved in that particular art to weave the stories. The trees will be drawn in a specific shape, the human figures will have clothes in that design and the props too will flaunt that typical style. If children remember the names of the designs or the regions they flourish in, I will consider my All of us have, sometime or the other, seen wall paintings in Madhubani art, with their rich and eye-catching geometric designs. Now visualise this traditional folk art form in an animated film for children. Mind-boggling isn’t it?
The man behind this imagery, Tilak Shetty, director of Krish,Trish and Batliboy II, has picked popular folk-tales and brought them alive on the big screen using this medium of art.
Tilak, who was at the inauguration of the two-day Children’s Film Fest held in the city recently, confesses that he cannot draw or paint “to save his life” and hence, chose this medium because “someone has to archive and document our folk history for posterity. And, films assure you of that,” he says.
A Commerce graduate, Tilak also dabbled in computer programming before setting up his animation company, Graphiti. He reveals that it is the art that decides the stories. “We first decide on the folk art and then we start researching on the folk-tales of the region. India has around 40 cultural zones; if we pick one artistic style, we also dig out at least three stories to complement it. We have a treasure trove of arts and stories, and it’s fun to blend the two on the screen,” he shares.
The “fun” entails painstaking research on the style, understanding the particular art form’s rules, getting the edits ready, maintaining the continuity — and in case it does not produce the desired results, then starting all over again.
When he started out, Tilak knew just three art styles — Warli, Mughal miniatures and Madhubani. So, this new visual medium “fascinates” him. “I’m learning a lot in the process and am also passing on that knowledge to others. In my animation films, I include a 30-second bit about the history of the art. It is like an introduction, say of leather puppetry from Karnataka to a kid who may be in Bihar. I am using the detailing involved in that particular art to weave the stories. The trees will be drawn in a specific shape, the human figures will have clothes in that design and the props too will flaunt that typical style. If children remember the names of the designs or the regions they flourish in, I will consider my work as successful,” he concludes.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The House for the Houses

A night stroll on the almost deserted 18th June Road was quite a revelation. What we had missed out during the hustle-bustle filled mornings, popped up in our consciousness, beckoning a closer inspection on the dimly-lit road.
No, it wasn't an apparition, nor was it a road block, but a house. A typical Goan house with red roofs, large windows and since the curtains were parted, we could also spot the altar. It quite fitted the description of what we had seen earlier in the day – a museum dedicated to houses of Goa.

House Watch
Having decided to skip beaches, temples and other touristy sights of Goa on this trip, we headed to Tordo, Salvador -do- Mundo in Bardez taluka. A red structure shaped like a ship was our destination.
The Houses of Goa Museum isn't your typical museum; in fact it's warm, welcoming and cozy like your own home. The polite and warm receptionist, on learning that we were not architects, offered us discounts on the entry tickets (Rs 50 for one instead of Rs 100).
The museum, built by architect, Gerard Da Cunha, is a haven for academicians – practising, architects, students of architecture, heritage activists and planners – and not laypersons. The explanation sounded daunting because we were a couple enamoured of houses with tiled roofs, balconies (balcaos as they are called in Portuguese), and old grannies sitting in their swaying armchair with their knitting paraphernalia.

Around the House
But, we needn't have worried. After slipping off our shoes, we climbed up the cylindrical stairs to enter the first level. Lights were switched on and the pictures, most of them sketches and illustrations by the late Goan social cartoonist, Mario Miranda, stood out. One section of the first floor described the chronology of the world architecture, while the second section described the USP of the museum – a quest to find out what the houses were like before the advent of the Portuguese and if they were the result of Indo-Western fusion.
We also got to see the finest examples of this fusion in the personality profile section. Seven families, including Miranda's, have been interviewed, the structure of their heritage Casa (house in Portuguese) described in detail in the pencil plan by the cartoonist. Thus we could count the number of windows in Miranda's ancestral house in Loutolim, and express wonder that the infantry of the Deshprabhu family stayed in Deshprabhu House in Kudal.
The next level described the material used in constructing the houses, the columns and the furniture. The shape of most of the furniture, has its origin in Europe, but the motifs were often Indian. We had fun spotting the motif of the coastal fruit, cashewnut, in the designs of the furniture, loaned to the museum.
Since both Hindus and Christians lived under the Portuguese rule, we got a glimpse of their religious practices. The museum has an altar, which is found in the homes of Christian families, while there is also a Hindu Devghar.

The Museum

The third level, also the attic, told us that while the importance of Tulsi plant diminished in the rest of the country, it actually flourished under the Portuguese rule. Many Hindu families in Goa have gaily painted Tulsi vrindavans in their gardens, perhaps that was their way of holding on fiercely to their Hindu identity when they were ruled by the Portuguese. The practise exists even today – Tulsi vrindavans outside the house tell us that a Hindu family stays there, while Christian families erect Cross before their house.


That night in Panjim, we tried to test our knowledge of old houses by identifying columns from raj angans, cabides and window pelmets. As the game progressed, we realised that the old style is now giving way to crowded apartments. Will any museum tell us what the future of the old houses is going to be?

The cabide was used as a peg to hang coats, jackets and hats
 The hands hold pictures and mirrors

Monday, April 23, 2012

Living out the life in novel

What life doesn’t offer you or takes away from you, novels give it in abundance. A chance to juggle multiple answers for a question troubling you, a chance to peek into someone’s thoughts, a chance to bridge the perception of imagination and reality, is given or sought in the fictional world.
These and other factors like awakening to the sensory experiences, the feeling of being sucked in by time, giving us motives, and the ability to break the boundaries of time and space are the ‘10 ways in which novels can change your life’,” says author Chandrahas Choudhury, who was in Pune recently at the invitation of Open Space, taking time off from his busy life in Delhi and Mumbai.
To elaborate on the topic, Choudhury chose 10 passages from the works of the past and present writers, which were not necessarily the central plot or even focussed on the protagonists, but nevertheless struck a chord. He first read out the passage from Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise which depicts the sensory experiences of a town or city cat that has moved to the country. According to Choudhury, the non-human perspective of the cat allows us to become more human.
To give the audience a complex example of time, he chose to go back to 200 CE, where Nanda, Buddha’s half-brother is “drawn on to visit Buddha and drawn back to his wife.” He said dramatic moments like these lead to the “explosion” where one is irrevocably sucked into by the time.
The excerpt from Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red — Enishte Effendi Meets God — tells us that there can be alternative possibilities to one question. Novels leave the choice open to us.
In Anton Chekov’s The Kiss, Ryabovitch, the soldier, knows no woman will ever marry him, yet he cant’ help dreaming about the woman who mistook him for someone else in the darkness and kissed him. He dreamt of being married to her, work taking him away from her, and then meeting again... Don’t we all dream and imagine, even if the reality is very different?
The highlight of Manu Joseph’s Serious Men was the correct usage of the right word at the right place. “The word ‘something’,” says Choudhury, “tells us about the action taking place in the story.”
He also chose to read from U R Ananthamurthy’s Bharathipura, because it delved into human psychology. “Jagan, the protagonist realises that people wouldn’t accept anything just because it’s given to them. The import in this story is ‘change’ and ways of democracy.”
Now, you know why we often say, “I could relate to the book and its characters.” Because it’s you who are ‘living’ out the life.

The page flips over

You are still living in the dinosaur age!” My friend exclaimed when I expressed curiosity at his buying books from Flipkart. Oops! I should have said ordered books from Flipkart because isn’t “buying” a physical act? Well, that’s so “romanticising” the past, I was told.
Has the act of buying books from the bookstores — sniffing in the “bookish” air, sometimes standing on the toes and sometimes bending at the knees to hunt for books and finally grinning when you get the copy you were looking for — become so passe? Are the technology-driven businesses and corporate-owned bookstores appealing more to the sensibilities of generation now than those cosy book nooks around the corner? We spoke to readers and bookstore owners to find out...

Leafing through change
Says Sunil Gadgil, owner of Popular Bookstores, Deccan Gymkhana, “We are disadvantaged by the current competitive scenario. We can’t afford to sell the books at significant discounts like the online bookstores. Of course, now they too have revised their rates because they have felt the pinch.”
Adds Upendra Dixit, owner of International Book Depot, one of the oldest bookstores in Pune, “The online stores can afford to sell books at lower rates because they sell several other things besides books, which means that their revenue doesn’t come only from books.”
The threat is real. But, what is it about Flipkart and others that they are touted as the next shopping address?
Why online shopping clicks...
Online shopping for books is a great experience. The range is amazing and pricing is the WOW factor. Regular bookstores can’t give me this joy because of their limited physical space and price range,” says Abhijit Kadle, a techie.
Mugdha Yeolekar-Alurkar, who resides in the USA, explains, “I have ordered books from Amazon several times. The advantages are twofold: one, you get the used books at a cheaper price; two, you can get them at your doorstep without having to look for them in different places. In most cases, you know the exact date when you would receive the books.”
Author Chandrahas Choudhury, who too uses Flipkart, says, “I would love to buy from bookshops with real addresses, but often they don’t have the entire range of Indian publishers. They stock almost no books by OUP, Permanent Black, Sage and Orient Longman and also don’t offer any value-addition. There’s no real knowledge of books to go alongside selling them, and so the experience is not a rich one.”
Infrastructure, or lack of it, is another reason,” says Dixit, adding, “Isn’t ordering books online a hassle-free option as compared to driving into the city, finding a parking place closest to the bookstore and on not finding it, parking at some distance and then hot-footing to the store...who has the time and patience for all this?”
Re-kindling the love of reading?
While Flipkart might be forgiven for promoting the printed word, Kindle is looked at as a new age villain by some and as a hero by others.
Kadle, who uses Kindle regularly, says, “There are several things about e-books that conventional books do not allow for, like full text searches, cross index searches, annotation and active bibliographies. If you can afford to buy a device like Kindle, then you can spend about $10 on a book. There are thousands of free books on Amazon because as copyrights expire on books, digital versions are made available free. You can read almost all the classics without spending a penny. ”
Gadgil, who also owns a Kindle, says, “Kindle is a good travel companion. However, my eyes were strained by the effort.”Satyajit Salgarkar, a teacher at a residential school, argues against it, saying, “The physical presence of the book, the font, the pages — they are important in summing up the reading experience.”
The clincher, in this case, is the price. Gadgil says, “At present e-books are the privilege of the few. But, once the prices are reduced, more and more people will turn to Kindle.”
What will he do in that case?
I will start stocking Kindles,” he says, matter-of-factly.
What the futurehas in store...
Does that sound the death-knell for the bookstores?
No”, says Subhadra Sen Gupta, Delhi-based writer. “You know, it’s a bit like cinema was declared dead when television came along. Books have been killed so many times, I’ve lost track. That is the computer industry talking. Also India is a huge market and ultimately there is space for everyone.”
Akshat Jaiman, a PHD student adds, “If you go to places like Darjeeling or Sikkim, the evenings are spent by sitting and reading inside book stores. And buying them! In fact, Darjeeling has only one book store called the Oxford Book Store and it is flooded with people. Book stores have a lot of scope for expanding into smaller towns.”
Yeolekar-Alurkar says, “The online shopping experience doesn’t give me personal satisfaction. Whenever I visited Paresh Agencies in Appa Balwant Chowk in Pune, the owner would willingly offer information about the other book titles written by the author, whose work I was searching for. I also remember once a salesman from Anmol Prakashan walked to another shop to find a book for me. I find this kind of personal attention and willingness to help readers very encouraging.”
Dixit, seconds her opinion, saying, “A book store is judged by the collection it has. Serious readers, who have finer taste, will always come to the place which has good books. They are not really interested in browsing the books while sipping coffee, or listening to the music. That’s where places like Manney’s, International Book Depot and Popular come in. As book sellers, we should be able to help readers who need guidance, mentoring and also suggest reference books. This isn’t true of online services or the mall-enclosed book stores.”
Catching up is the word
Gadgil, who has already started a FB page, will now be launching his website. His store will also be starting a courier service that will deliver books across the country. Reflecting a pragmatic business side, Gadgil says, “It will take another decade and half for e-publishing to become the norm in India. And, to survive the onslaught we have to make changes accordingly.”
Dixit, on the other hands, admits to “playing on the last wicket.” “I am standing on the wicket and intend to play as long as possible without hitting sixes and fours. At my age (he’s 72), I cannot take on the Internet business or reinvent myself. ”
It’s win-win for readers
It certainly won’t be presumptuous to say that both the mediums will co-exist in the present times.
Says Sen Gupta, “Conventional ways will not die. It’s just that we will have more options of how we want to read. I have friends who carry a Kindle when they are travelling but still browse bookshops.”
Adds Jaiman, “Closing down of neighbourhood bookstores might be a passing phenomenon. I don’t think technology in the long run will take away the desire to read books in hard copy and storing it in one’s own library at home. I guess people will need time to become FREE from the intoxication called technology.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Chetan Bhagat Says...

Touted as “one of the 100 most influential people in the world” by TIME magazine, writer, speaker, Chetan Bhagat certainly doesn't mince his words when he says, “Youth who are not politically conscious, do not know the importance of voting, are not interested in the decision-making process, are as good as a bunch of illiterates.”
Bhagat, who was in the city at the launch of Canada-based Mad Science, a science enrichment provider for kids, in India and Sri Lanka, said, “Both rural and urban youth are aspirational. They want to change their circumstances, which is good. But, they are not very politically conscious. I would say, kids from rural areas are more politically aware as compared to their urban compatriots. But, on the whole, youth today are not interested in decision-making process, they are disenchanted by democracy, which isn't a good sign. All of them can't become activists. They have to be a part of the socio-political fabric of the country.”
Bhagat, who's considered as youth icon, opined, “There's lot of good in today's kids, but there are some trends which are worrisome too. They are focused about their career and education, which is a good thing. But, most of them are so drawn in the world of social media that they stop thinking and end up reacting to the stimulus.”
This, Bhagat warns, could lead to more and more people with poor leadership skills.
When asked for solution or way out, the popular writer says, “A balanced approach is must. There's no space for extreme views, a middle-way out is must.”
Bhagat, who makes it a point to meet youth wherever he goes, says, “I am there wherever English is. Since more and more people are seeking education in English, I am reaching out to more people. By meeting and talking to them, I am trying to get them involved in the process of national development.”
When we ask, “how?”, Bhagat explains, “My books are popular because they are written in a simple language. These readers are then influenced to read my columns and then join my twitter page where I air my views on national and social issues.”
Bhagat admits that he's yet to make an impact in rural areas, but he claims that he's known to youngsters in tier-II and tier-III cities/towns in the country.
Why doesn't he consider also writing in Hindi besides English, since English of letters is yet to make a dent in rural areas?
I don't think I can write in pure or Sanskritised Hindi, but I am working on the translation of my novel, 2 States: The Story of my Marriage, in Hindi. It's going to be in colloquial Hindi peppered with English,” he says.
Bhagat also adds that there will be a Marathi translation too.
There's demand for good literature in regional languages too. But, as I said, English is an aspirational language and more and more people are speaking it.”
Besides translations, his two books (Five Point Someone and One Night @ Call Centre) have also been adapted to the big screen. He's now one of the four screenplay writers, who's working to adapt, “The 3 Mistakes of My Life” for Abhishek Kapoor of Rock On fame.
The film will go to floors in a few days time. We are shooting it in Gujarat, and no there's fear of any backlash because we have the blessings of the state government,” adds Bhagat. The book is a blend of religion, politics and our obsession with the Gentleman's Game.
Bhagat will also be involved with the promotion of the movie. Once bitten, twice shy. Eh?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Panchkarma: Five ways to wellness

A lot of people seem to think of “Panchkarma” as one of those body massages that help you rejuvenate after gruelling hours at work. They couldn't be more wrong. Panchakarma is not what you get after checking into a spa or a parlour. Massages may be a part of it, but Panchakarma is certainly a lot more than that.

First things first
Panchkarma is an Ayurvedic medical procedure that is to be administered only by trained Ayurvedic doctors or by those who hold a Diploma in Panchkarma.
If the nameplate of the doctor reads “Panchkarma Chikitsa” then you are at the right place. Please learn to differentiate between relaxation therapies at spas and Panchakarma treatment,” says Vaidya Leena Jagdale.

Panchkarma means...
...Cleansing your body. The five basic Panchkarma procedures are: vaman, virechan, basti, rakta mokshan and nasya. Vaman cures the disease though puking or vomiting, virechan through purgation (done with the help of laxatives), basti means enema (which is done by releasing oil through anal passage), while rakta mokshan means blood letting with the help of leeches and nasya means administering medicines through nostrils. Before going for either vaman or virechan, it's extremely important to follow the snehan or svedan procedure. Snehan means gentle oil massage, followed by svedan which refers to steam bath. The combined procedure opens up the pores and help in absorption of oil.
For those undergoing nasya treatment, the massage can be limited to forehead instead of the entire body.
The procedure/s is/are administered to those who want to maintain their fitness levels and to those who are suffering from a certain dosh or disease,” Leena says. The treatment depends on the disease of the patient and his body constitution – which is divided into Kaafa, Vaata and Pitta in Ayurveda (see box).
For instance, vaman is given to those with Kaafa prakruti and those suffering from sinusitis. Virechan helps people with Pitta prakruti and those troubled by irritable bowel syndrome. Basti (Vaata prakruti) is given to those who are suffering from joint pains and fatigue/exhaustion. People suffering from skin diseases are treated by rakta mokshan and nasya gives relief to patients of migraine,” says Leena.

Shirodhara, which is popularised through spas and Ayurvedic centres these days, is also an important sub-type of Panchakarma and includes the gentle pouring of oil on the forehead. It helps people with sleep disorders, scalp or hair problems and also psychiatric patients.

How long and how much?
The administration of Panchkarama, its quantity and duration depends on individual body constitution, the climate and the disease being treated. “While these procedures can be administered throughout the year, ideally vaman should be treated in March, basti in June-July and vaman in October,” explains Leena.
There are also specific periods in the day when the treatment should be ideally administered. “Basti should be done between 5-7 am and 5-7 pm, vaman, between 7-10 am and virechan between 10am and 2 pm,” she adds.
The duration of the treatment could vary from patient to patient and also from procedure to procedure. “A vaman or virechan treament will take minimum of 7 days to maximum of 15 days. Raktamokshan or nasya can be completed in one day. The treatment is followed by dietary restrictions for about a week or more. If the treatment is not administered correctly, then there are chances that the patient's vomiting or loose motions don't stop after a specific period. Hence it's best advised that you consult and get treated by your doctor,” cautions Leena.
She also explains that those who are seeking to complete the Panchkarma treatment while meeting their work commitments should abandon the thought.
It's a time-consuming procedures, so put in at least a fortnight's leave before going in for Panchkarma. It's also a very expensive treatment,” she concludes.

In Ayurved, there are three types of Prakruti (body constitutions)- Kaafa, pitta and vaat. Prakruti means pre-dominance of a particular dosha (physiological and emotional traits)
in normal circumstances. When a person falls ill or suffers from a disease, then one can find abnormal dominance of that particular prakruti.

People with Kaafa prakruti prefer summers, their consumption of food is less, but they look bulky. Those with Pitta constitution have immense body heat. They can't bear summers. They are unable to control their hunger.
People with pre-dominant Vaata symptoms are said to have a bony structure, and their eating and sleeping patterns are erratic. They have thin, listless hair and bad teeth.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Real Spiderman

With Bare Hands
The True Story of a Real Life Spiderman
By: Alain Robert
Published by: Jaico
Pages: 306
Price: Rs 350

With limited mobility of his hands, smashed bones, and close brush with death (twice), one can describe Alain Robert's escalation of Petronas Towers, Taipei101, Sears Towers, Shinjuku Center Building, Golden Gate Bridge and several other urban landmarks across the world as, “incredible.”
Or perhaps not as Robert thinks that his urban escalations provide him with a different but respectable source of livelihood. And, since he is passionate about scaling cliffs and skyscrapers, a broken bone or two do scare him, but not enough to tie him down to a sedentary lifestyle or job.
For those who do not follow adventure sports, or are not acquainted with the rush of adrenaline, the first few chapters of autobiography, which describe the Robert's transition from a rock climber to an urban climber and difficulty ranges of cliffs, might be a little confusing. One also can't help but wonder, “why risk one's life?”, and “why leave natural cliffs in search of urban summits?”
However, as the autobiography progresses, Robert reveals the limitation of rock climbing as profession and how urban escalations chose him. As for being a foolhardy risk taker, Robert's description of preparing his slippers, coating his hands with magnesia powder and taking note of climatic conditions dispel the notion.
Yes, even with all this preparation, Robert had to cancel a few of his escalations or live them mid-way because of personal fears or climatic conditions or legal tangle. But, he has always returned to complete these half-finished tasks and has succeeded admirably on his second and sometimes even on third attempt.
Written in chatty style, Robert has often used the “F” word to express his frustration, joy and exasperation. Sometime comical, but mostly poignant, Robert has also thrown light on his cat and mouse encounters with the security, police, judicial system and the attitude of authority figures to human rights and dignity.
He also mentions his struggle to stay rooted to his values and mores and not be swept by the media hoopla and being feted by the who's who. That's the reason why Robert decided to scale broken down buildings in Rossigna, flavela (slum) in Brazil. He did it for the kids who befriended him on the streets of Brazil.
And, as for his fellow rock-climbers who accused him of commercializing his skills or lacking pragmatism and maturity, Robert says, “Well, perhaps I am not the one for falling in line. But never have I encouraged the undoing of modern society, nor have I wished anarchy to fall upon it. I merely use the liberties differently, but without playing the social misfit or the rebel. If I can succeed in building the life about which I have always dreamed, to have stuck to my guns and to have followed my dreams, I will have succeeded.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Losses and gains of life

Reportage of Diplomat Pavan Varma's foray into fiction.
Death. Much as we know that we are born to die one day, we hope that the “one day” is in someone else’s fate and not ours... and, when we realise that we are living on borrowed time, we lose all our bearings. Death or rather how to deal with death is the premise of Indian diplomat and writer, Pavan Varma’s first fiction, When Loss is Gain which is published by Rain Tree, an imprint of the Rupa Publications. The book was launched in Pune recently.
Referring to the theme, Varma says, “It’s when the finality knocks at your door that you suddenly realise that all these years, months and days, you have been engulfed by the minutiae of life, tyranny of the trivia and fail to see the benediction of the feeling of just being alive. In other words, the book asks us how we treat our life.”
The fiction is set in Delhi and Bhutan, where the capital and the nation state are the metaphors for Hinduism and Buddhism.
Having lived in Delhi and now serving in Bhutan as the Indian Ambassador, Varma says, he has had the opportunity to observe the religions and philosophy of the two countries. “Hinduism represents joy, embracing life, while the key word in Buddhism is Dukha or sorrow. The protagonists, Anand, a Delhi-based lawyer stands for joy, while Tara, who is on the verge of renouncing her life reflects the Buddhist thought,” says the author of 16 non-fiction books.
The dialogue between Anand and Tara, interfaced with desire, overlap the dialogue between India and Bhutan. The core is highlighted through Sufism as the book has plenty of couplets written by Mirza Ghalib and Bulle Shah.
Calling it a fast-paced narrative, Varma says, that the book is about each one of us — how we look at life and how concepts like death, life, joy and sorrow are relative and redemptive. What is loss for us could be gain for others...