Friday, March 17, 2017

Once more....Latadidi

Mohan Deora and Rachana Shah have co-authored a book - On Stage With Lata - to describe how the singing legend was the first Indian film artist to conquer foreign shores. They talk about the book and Lata Mangeshkar, the person.

For those living several shores away, there are a few things that they miss about home. First, the food and second, the films (regional, Bollywood) and their songs. These two factors transport them on a nostalgia trip, filling them up with joy and sadness.

In the ‘70s, ‘80s and even in the ‘90s, it was difficult for the NRIs to connect with their folks in India, so cultural evenings, concerts brought them together.

Classical musicians Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan were the prominent names in the international circuit, but no popular icons from mainstream Hindi film industry had performed abroad till then. The first one to perform, and that too on a big scale, was Lata Mangeshkar.

This precursor is necessary to tell you how Latadidi conquered the foreign shores and in fact raised the bar for all Indian artists who were to follow her in later decades. All this valuable information has been put together into a book - On Stage with Lata, brought out by HarperCollins Publishers.

It has been co-authored by Mohan Deora, a nuclear scientist, who had organised Latadidi’s performances in American cities and the Caribbean and Fiji islands, and Rachana Shah, her niece. Shah, alongwith her cousins, had sung in some of the concerts too.

The two explain what it was like to organise and be a part of the concerts, and of course watch the Melody Queen up close.

Mohan Deora

Did you maintain a diary in the ‘70s and ‘80s?

I never maintained a diary and I agree that it is really impossible to recall and jot down the information three decades hence. But I had three sources to do so. The one was the memories of certain events imprinted in my brain over the three decades. The second was, various articles written about these shows and the third one was the recordings and videos collected during the period.

How did you choose the incidents, anecdotes that went into the book?

The incidents and anecdotes that went into the book were inspired by my memories that are still with me and may never be forgotten. Whenever one asks or talks about the book, the first thought that comes to the mind is the loss of our beloved, Mukeshji. A day before his demise, on August 27, Mukeshji came to my house for dinner with Latadidi and we had a very enjoyable evening. While driving back to the hotel, he even said, ‘Ek vegetarian ke ghar par itna achcha chicken kabhee nahi khaya’. And the next day, he was gone, forever. I still wonder how it could have happened.

Which are your favourite Latadidi songs?

The top three that come to mind are: Ayegaa aayega aanewala from Mahal, Mohe bhool gaye saawariya from Baiju Bawara and Ye zindagi usiki hai from Anarkali.

In one of the chapters you had said that it’s Indian film music which brought together strangers in a world away from home. Does that still hold true? Which Indian/Bollywood, regional songs are being heard by young Indians and their parents, living abroad?

It is the Indian film music which brings strangers together in a world away from home. And it will always continue to be so. Predominantly, the Hindi/Bollywood songs are being listened to by parents living abroad today and hopefully the youngsters too will follow suit. My 11-year-old granddaughter Saaniya listening to a Lataji song, asked me, ‘Baba who is this singer? I would like to sing like her.’

Rachana Shah

When Mr Deora approached you with the proposal to write the book, how did you go about penning his thoughts?

Mohan uncle, as I lovingly call him, was the main organiser of Didi’s shows abroad. And being the meticulous man he is, he had preserved every article, piece of information, photos from all these tours. Plus when one deals with a phenomenon like Lata Mangeshkar, one just naturally cherishes every moment with her.

So he had all this wealth of information and it needed to be told to the world. Since the book is narrated through his eyes, I had to keep that perspective and not dilute it at all.

Were there any instances when your memory of the tour/s differed with that of Mr Deora?

Not at all. In fact, by writing this book, both Mohan uncle and I relived all those precious moments again, with an even more deeper understanding of this incredible artist called Lata Mangeshkar.

Was it difficult to concise the impact and reach of Latadidi’s concert shows abroad in this slim volume of book?

The book showcases Didi as a stage performer in the the USA, Canada, the Caribbean islands and the Fiji islands, between the period 1975-1998. It doesn’t touch any other aspect. Nor is it presumptuous.. It’s an honest and simple read.

Didi is the epitome of simplicity. We’ve tried to ingrain that quality in our style of writing. And Nasreen Munni Kabir has done a fab job of editing it.

While writing the book, have you learnt something new about your aunt or the way she conducted herself?

Didi is a revelation every time I meet her. I’m so lucky to spend time with her and absorbing the littlest things that come my way. This book reflects her aura as a stage performer only. But through that one glimpse, one gains insight into the humane and philanthropic side of hers. She is grace personified and I marvel at the way she has conducted herself for so many years.

What did these tours mean to you as a child?

As a child, one breezes through life. Happiness comes quick and stays longer. And that’s how Didi treated us. I was exposed to different cultures and people from all walks of life at a very young age. It has made me adopt a very tolerant and accepting approach to life.

Didi made sure we had a very happy and nurturing environment around us. My brother, my cousins, we grew up as one big happy joint family. We travelled together and grew up together. All these values I attribute to the elders in the family and I can’t thank them enough.

Falling in love with Urdu

Sukhan, a mehfil of Urdu poetry, ghazals and qawwalis, will be staged in the city today. Om Bhutkar and Jaydeep Vaidya explain the concept

Noted Urdu poet and lyricist Gulzar, who was at the Jashn-e-Rekhta festival this week, was quoted as saying, “Urdu is alive the same way it was earlier, with the same old strength. Its energy hasn’t reduced. Maybe its aspect is changing… Urdu is the most alive language and moving ahead with times.”

Exuding similar sentiments was theatre actor Om Bhutkar, when we met him for a chat on Sunday. Bhutkar and his friends have come up with a Urdu ghazal, shayri programme, titled Sukhan.

“My affair or should I say passion for Urdu language began when I was writing the play Mi..Ghalib. My friends and I are equally fond of classical music, ghazals and nazms (verses) and whenever we meet, we keep discussing Urdu shayris and the works of singers and poets. In fact after Mi..Ghalib I had tossed this idea of doing a programme on Urdu ghazals and my friend Nachiket Devasthali kept on reminding me to get cracking on it,” says 25-year-old Bhutkar.

Thus Sukhan was conceptualised. The literal meaning of Sukhan is speech or conversation, and that’s the crux of the programme. Says Bhutkar, “In Sukhan, we establish a direct interaction with the audience in Urdu. Many in the audience fear that they might not be able to comprehend the metaphorical language. So we ask them to concentrate on the sound. Sound is the central element and not the language.”

The three-hour-long programme has seven-eight qawwali and ghazal performances interspersed with recitation of Urdu verses, couplets, narration of short stories and reading out excerpts from letters written by Mirza Ghalib. The team has chosen verses and couplets written by Amir Khusro, Hafeez Jullundhari, Jaun Elia, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mir Taqi Mir and Iqbal.

“Depending on the audience’s understanding and the length of time, we try to introduce new elements in the show. In our show at S M Joshi Auditorium, we plan to pay a tribute to poet Nida Fazli, who passed away recently,” says Bhutkar.

When asked about mastering Urdu diction so quickly, the actor clarifies, “I have learnt to read and write Urdu. But I won’t say I have mastered it. As an actor, I don’t have to master the language like an academician. Nachiket and I, who recite the nazms, can take certain liberties because we are artistes. The thrust of Sukhan is to introduce people to the beauty of language and its literary treasure. Urdu sounds both familiar and exotic at the same time, and that’s the flavour which we want to present before the audience.”

Qawwali is an important component of Sukhan. Bhutkar and Jaydeep Vaidya (who has directed the musical compositions) speak excitedly about it. Says Bhutkar, “Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has a great influence on us. And, so we wanted to include some qawwali compositions.”

“In films, qawwali is shown as an orchestra. We have tried to stick to the traditional pattern of qawwali mehfil using instruments like harmonium, tabla, sarangi and tanpura,” adds Vaidya.

The team of Sukhan comprises young singers, still being trained in Hindustani Classical Music. So, they found it a little challenging to master qawwalis, which requires energetic singing.

“Abhijeet Dhere, Swapnil Kulkani and I sing qawwali. Depending on who is the lead singer, the other two support him. Sanika Kopargaonkar and Divya Chaphadkar sometimes help us with the back vocals for chorus. Usually, girls don’t sing qawwali. Their role is more prominent when we sing ghazal compositions,” explains Vaidya.

“Qawwali is difficult to master. The songs are very spiritual and the references to the lover and his beloved, actually mean the Lord and his devotee or being one with the supreme. You need to feel and bring out the bhakti in your voice,” he adds.

And that’s the beauty of music and the language in which it is sung. “It embraces all and cannot be claimed by one,” the duo exclaim, before signing off.

Do as the Tatas do

The Tata Properties exhibition, which opens to the public today in the city, is a must visit to acquaint yourselves with the family’s spirit of entrepreneurship and philanthropy.

Visitors at the Tata Properties exhibition which was inaugurated on Saturday at Tata Central Archives

If the contribution of the Parsi community, the Tata family in particular, to the country’s economy, architecture and philanthropy is to be measured, then a visit to the Tata Properties exhibition is a must. The exhibition, which was inaugurated by Ishaat Hussain, director, and Farokh N Subedar, Chief Operating Officer, Tata Sons, on October 8, will be open to the public from today (Monday) at Tata Central Archive, off Mangaldas Road, Pune.

The exhibition, which showcases over 100 photographs of the properties from 1822 to 1965, is in many ways an eye-opener to the entrepreneurial spirit of Jamsetji Tata and his family, who moved to the then Bombay from Navsari and their commitment to usher in industrial revolution in the country. Besides, the panels put up at the Archive indicate that the Tata family moved like nomads in Bombay, staying in different parts of the city. This helped the family identify various areas, which could further their cause in industry and nation building.

The panels also provided information on the various enterprises which Jamsetji and his sons took up. They failed in some, while some enterprises flourished. But what we do gather is that their entrepreneurial spirits never flagged.

The exhibits also provide a dekko into the rituals of the Parsi community, the way they dressed and, of course, the way they lived. The prominent exhibits include the Bombay House, Esplanade House and its interiors which have a Louis VI drawing room and Japanese drawing room.

There are information plaques which outline the family’s commitment to education. For instance, Ratanbai Bamji donated Rs 1,00,000 for a building for the Zorastrian Girls’ School Tehran in memory of her father, Nusserwanji Ratanji Tata. In 1912, Sir Ratan Tata made an offer of financial help to the University of London for instituting a Chair (professorship) to investigate and research causes of destitution and poverty. Sir Ratan made an annual grant of 1,400 pounds from 1913-21.

The Tatas also have had a few properties in Pune. For instance, Sir Dorabji Tata and Sir Ratan Tata donated
Rs 10,000 and Rs 5,000, respectively, in 1916-17 for the proposed building of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in then Poona. The Hall, which was completed in 1917, still stands today as part of the main building. Then, there’s Gladhurst on Bund Garden Road bought by Sir Dorabji Tata, which had exquisite interiors, extensive grounds and maintained gardens. It is currently known as ‘Dutch Palace’ and is owned by Edward Pereira.

At the exhibition, which will continue for three months, you will find more such information, inspiring you to ‘give back to society’.

Putting plastic waste to use

Dr Medha Tadpatrikar and Shirish Phadtare started Rudra Environmental Solutions (India) to convert plastic waste into poly fuel. The initiative is garnering a lot of praise and attracting volunteers

A small packet arrives at Dr Medha Tadpatrikar’s office while we chat about her work of plastic segregation. “It’s from Vizag,” she informs. Tadpatrikar and her business partner, Cost Accountant Shirish Phadtare, started Rudra Environmental Solutions (India) Ltd in Pune in 2014 and has been educating people about plastic segregation at its source. The initiative is quite impressive because it’s completely people driven and free. No wonder then that people from Vishakhapatnam and a few more from Mumbai are couriering their plastic waste to them.

In 2009, the families of Tadpatrikar and Phadtare were vacationing in Kanha National Park. “During one safari, we were asked not to visit a track because a few deer had died. Later, we learnt that the animals had died after eating plastic. We realised we had to do something.”

The duo started finding out for themselves the ill effects and hazards of plastic. “We own a research firm called, Mantra. So researching, getting data and statistics was easy. But we also wanted to find out for ourselves the hazardous effects of plastic and how they could be reversed. So we began testing it. We knew plastic is made from crude oil, so can we go back to it? That was the baseline on which we worked,” she says.

The duo, along with engineers and designers, devised a machine to convert plastic into gas in 2010. But it wasn’t helping in environment conservation, so Tadpatrikar and Phadtare decided to experiment more.

“In 2012-13, we designed a machine that converted plastic into fuel. Before bringing the machine to the market, we decided to use it first, make more changes, etc. We also started talking to people, explaining about the necessity of segregating plastic at source. One lady asked, ‘What do we do with the plastic after the segregation? Even the garbage workers sift through good quality plastic bottles or ware and leave the rest. What do we with the remaining part?’ I replied, ‘I will come around and pick it up’. That’s how we began,” she adds.

Tadpatrikar and Phadtare drove around in her car to various housing societies to pick up plastic waste. The quantity didn’t matter. “It might not be possible for everyone to bring the waste to us on scheduled days, so we offered to pick it up for free. We started giving them free gunny bags in which they could store the waste,” she informs.

Depending on the volume collected, the waste is taken to one of the two segregating plants at Hadapsar and Jejuri.

The aim of Rudra Solutions is to spread awareness of ‘Our garbage, our responsibility’. The Pune Municipal Corporation does a tremendous job, but it’s short of manpower. So people have to pitch in. “Since we started, we have seen a change in mindset. There was a time when people asked us for money to take away the plastic. But we refused. We told them that they could sell good plastic like bottles, food containers, etc. But plastic waste like biscuit and wafer wrappers or polythene bags can be given to us, because they clog the drains and gutters,” explains Tadpatrikar.

Currently, Rudra Solutions picks up plastic waste from 6,800 homes in the city and areas like Bhima Shankar, Baramati, Baneshwar, villages near Mulshi and from forts like Sinhagad, Raigad and Rajgad. The waste that is turned into poly fuel is sold to villagers at a cheaper rate so that they can use it for kitchen fire, etc. “We want to pick up waste from 10,000 homes in the near future,” she concludes.

Writer and social worker, Mita Banerjee read about Tadpatrikar’s work and decided to get in touch with her. She and her colleagues were already a part of Team Miracle, which was engaged in social welfare. Further inspired by Prime Minister’s Swachh Bharat campaign, the team wished to do something in that area.

“I first got in touch with Medha in March this year, and invited her for a talk at our Senior Citizen’s club, followed by another talk in Viman Nagar in May. At that time, Rudra had not ventured into this area. We started with a small bag of plastic waste from my household,” she says.

Thereafter, she rallied around various friends and neighbours, who in turn, spread the news to their friends and neighbours. “The initiative is so simple and sustainable that it soon caught on, and we began getting calls from various friends in other areas like Kalyani Nagar, Koregaon Park, DP Road, etc. We have formed WhatsApp groups and sub groups. The monthly pick-up route is fixed and well-coordinated by Medha,” concludes Banerjee.

Open your mind wide

Mahabanoo Mody-Kotwal says that The Vagina Monologues has been written with the purest intention and has succeeded in achieving what it set out to do

Vagina. Say the word aloud. Can you? We tried to ask Mahbanoo Mody-Kotwal if she ever examined her private parts all by herself. We couldn’t twist our tongue to say aloud the word ‘Vagina’, hesitated and left the question incomplete.

“You are asking me a question, but feeling bad to pronounce it. Most educated people know that vagina isn’t a dirty word, they know where it is situated and know the pleasures it can give, the way the penis can give. Of course, everybody has and should examine it,” says Kotwal, who along with her son Kaizaad, has produced and directed the Indian production of the play, The Vagina Monologues.

The play, which will be staged in Pune on Friday, November 11 as a fund raiser by WE Network for the pre-natal care unit of Sassoon Hospital, has originally been written by Eve Ensler in 1996. Ensler interviewed about 200 women on their views on sex, relationships, and violence against women. And, their stories have been performed on stage.

It was in 2003 that the first Indian show of the play was staged. And, since then, it has been running houseful. When asked if any revisions were made to The Vagina Monologues, like focusing on the advertisements endorsing skin lightening cream for the private parts, Kotwal made it abundantly clear that she hasn’t “added or subtracted anything from the play.”

Says she, “Eve Ensler has written this play and has given it to me under the terms and conditions of the copyright and I cannot add or subtract anything from the play. I cannot do that till she gives me the permission or she writes it. So a lot of people tell me to include this or write about marital violence etc. There is marital violence in the play, but in an emotional form. The play covers almost everything, but whatever little has been left out, cannot be put in by us.”

The play, says Kotwal, has been written with purest intent of spreading awareness which it has achieved. “The word ‘vagina’ was considered dirty in India; today people are shouting it out at the shows. It’s just a biological name of a body part, of over half this world’s population. So why should we be ashamed to say this word? It’s perfectly decent word like ‘yoni’. I mean, it’s not a derogatory word like ‘chut’. Unfortunately, most people in India use the dirty words and that’s the sad part about it,” adds she.

A show meant for women and men both, it’s the reaction from the latter that spikes our curiosity. How would men react to what’s happening on the stage and the thought process in the mind of their spouse/friend sitting next to them?

“Most men in the audience come up to us to speak after the show is over. They open up about facts like how their mothers were abused by their fathers. In fact, one man recently wrote in our book, “The MCP in me died this evening’,” says Kotwal. That’s what the play on Friday evening, for which Sakal Times is the media partner, should be doing — open our minds.

Where time stands still

f you’d like to know what it means to soak in silence, visit Tambdi Surla, a Mahadev temple on the outskirts of Goa

We first read about Tambdi Surla in Manohar Malgaonkar’s Inside Goa. He says in the book: “A tour of Goa’s temples should appropriately end with Tambdi Surle or Red Surle. Red Surle is no more than a hamlet with perhaps a hundred inhabitants and it is called red because its earth is red. But the temple which is about half a mile away from the village is black, which means that the stone for its building must have been brought from some distance away. It is by far the oldest temple in Goa, perhaps built in 12th century or even earlier. Up until a couple of years ago, it was all but inaccessible.”

So having read this and the description of the Mahadev temple, accompanied by the detailed illustrations of the site, by cartoonist Mario Miranda, we were keen on visiting Tambdi Surla. This summer, as we drove down to Sacordem and then through the Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, we got an inkling of how the temple remained standing, undamaged throughout the Portuguese reign of the island state.

It’s so far away from habitation that possibly everyone forgot that the temple existed. While driving through the wildlife sanctuary and the smattering of hamlets and post offices announcing the names of villages that we were passing through, we often wondered if we had lost our way. And, no GPS could have guided us, because there was this dense foliage around us. As far as spotting wild animals or birds in the sanctuary was concerned, we only got lucky with langurs who lined our path all the way to the Tambdi Surla temple.

On reaching our destination, we spotted two men running respective stalls — one sold puja paraphernalia and the other was a gola and sherbetwala with colourful bottles stocked on his cart.

Inside the temple precincts, a serene silence engulfed us. And what lay before our eyes was something straight out of a picture postcard. A stone structure (the temple) was a few yards away, surrounded on all sides by manicured green lawns, lined with bushes. A tiled path led to the structure, which stood out against the green hills and blue sunny skies. The only thing missing in this picture-perfect image was a gurgling stream or a brook. Well, Tambdi Surla does have a stream which flows along the temple, but in summer, it dries up.

It’s one of the cleanest and efficiently-maintained temple precincts and gardens that we have seen, mostly because not many are aware of its existence. In a state known for beaches and booze, a temple so far from the main city, surely doesn’t figure in anyone’s must-visit list.

The Archaeological Survey of India board mentions the construction date of the temple as 12th century, perhaps built by the Kadamba dynasty, which ruled Goa. The lone structure is plain to look at, but its engineering is something to marvel at. No brick or mortar has been used in its construction. It’s just stones placed on top of another, like an octagonal puzzle.

After spending about 30 minutes in and around the temple, soaking in the splendorous beauty, we stepped out to chat with the vendors. The temple now had a few visitors besides us. The golawala told us that the temple sees a huge crowd on Mahashivratri, else it’s all quiet. And we thoroughly enjoyed the quietness because it was a huge refreshing change from the city’s din and rattle.

Love makes the world go round

In a tete-a-tete with romance novelist and fashion stylist Nikita Singh about her new book Every Time It Rains.

Bruised and abused Laila carries a lot of baggage. But she is no wilting violet and a real badass when it comes to running her bakery. She’s the present-day heroine of Harlequin romances. And, unlike the typical romance fiction, the hero here is goofy, fun with very life-affirming traits. That’s how Every Time It Rains, pans out.

Nikita Singh, who has penned her 10th novel, was impelled to carry forward Laila’s story from her previous novel Like a Love Song. Singh, who was in Pune for the launch of her latest, Every Time... says, “In my previous book, Like a Love Song, Maahi was the central character, and Laila was her friend. We see her from Maahi’s perspective and then a thought popped in my mind — What Laila does when she’s not with Maahi? I had this whole back story of hers, but there wasn’t space in Like a Love Song to justify it, so that’s how the initial idea of this book came about.”

The book doesn’t fall into ‘romance-romance’ genre, but is a well-rounded story about every aspect of a girl’s life, including love, points out the author, who revels in writing romances.

While her characters have defined careers and certain Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCDs), Singh has dabbled in several things while continuing to write. She wrote her first novel for Penguin Publishers when she was a third year student of Pharmacy. She also worked briefly with Wisdom Tree Publishers which brought out lists on religious, spiritual and historical titles. Later, she went to Manhattan to complete her grad school. On campus, she was handling the social media account of an art gallery and after graduation, she took up the job of a fashion stylist. “Why keep doing the same thing?” she says with a smile.

When it comes to her writing, Singh lets the idea, plot and characters simmer in her head for about six or seven months. And, then she sits down to write the novel in three months flat. “All I have got is a sheet in which I list down chapters 1 to 21. Sometimes not even that. First, I write three chapters and then the fourth automatically follows and so on. Sometimes, I take a break while writing,” she adds.

Over the years, she has seen a change in the way she develops her plotline. “My writing has become more atmospheric. I am showing people what I am seeing — how my characters dress, where they are going. I sort of spread out the details throughout the book so that the complete picture of the character is formed,” explains Singh.

In fact, she knows her characters better than anything else in the book. “I can visualuse them, how they will react to certain things, how they will change their expressions and so on. So while Laila is calm, reserved and driven, I wanted someone who could complete her. So there’s JD, who is goofy, boisterous, very positive and happy. As soon as JD enters, the book becomes so romantic, especially the first scene between them, where the health-conscious JD is eating his food. I knew he would eat some fruit or the other. So I thought of orange and the way he offers it to Laila, is quite funny,” she adds.

The romance writer has two books up her alley. “One is about Maahi and Siddhant’s story, this time told from the latter’s point of view. And, one of Sarthak’s story, who is Maahi’s brother,” informs Singh.

And, what about Laila and JD? “Well, they are in a good space right now. Their story might unfold parallel to Maahi and Siddhant’s,” she adds.

Love, the way they see it

Author Ira Trivedi talks about her new book Nikhil and Riya and how the characters find spiritual growth.

A boarding school. He with a limp. And, she a runner. They fall in love, until death pulls them apart. This is Ira Trivedi’s latest offering — Nikhil and Riya. Written from Nikhil’s perspective, it talks about love, longing and finally, redemption. In between, you also get a glimpse of life in a posh boarding school — Residency School —and the stories of bullying, one-upmanship and rivalry. Targeted at young adults, Nikhil and Riya is a Harlequin romance brought out by HarperCollins India. Here’s chatting up the author:

We believe the book was earlier written from Riya’s perspective. Can you tell us about it and the changes that were incorporated to make Nikhil take charge?
The book was ready to be sent to the editors six-seven years ago. But when I read I felt that this wasn’t good enough yet. So I waited for a bit. I was also in the midst of writing India in Love, so I put this one on hold. After India... came out, I went back to Nikhil and Riya.
When the story was being narrated from Riya’s point of view, the focus was not just on Nikhil. Like Nikhil was completely focused on his girl. She could do no wrong in Nikhil’s eyes. But for Riya, it was different things like running, and the process of accepting her death.

Love has been portrayed very differently by the protagonists. Are you trying to bring out how males and females perceive it?
There’s no one way to love. Nikhil loves Riya the way only he knows how to. And, the same can be said for Riya. People assume love is what is shown in Bollywood. But that’s not the case, everytime.

The book has many sublime emotions. Is that a result of you being a yoga practitioner?
Well, I was on my spiritual journey, while writing the book. I read Bhagwat Purana. I knew I had to grow as a writer, so I decided to wait and rewrite the book. It’s not a sad book, but it’s quite profound and touching in many ways.
The reason I chose to write on love is because I think that the first common spiritual experience one has is ‘falling in love’. It’s the spirit of the emotion and the spirits finding each other. That’s why it’s the journey of the soul, through love.

Your earlier two books also had Riya, as the protagonist.

This isn’t planned. It’s just that I end the last character with Riya and I begin the new character with Riya. I think to myself that I will change the name later on. But it doesn’t happen.
However for this book, Nikhil’s name was changed quite a few times. I don’t quite recall what the original name was. I also toyed with the name Prashant and a few others. But then Nikhil and Riya kind of fit. It became a nice title. Prashant and Riya, Sunil and Riya don’t have that ring to it.

But is there a little bit of your life in Riya — the way she has been portrayed?

I don’t think so. She is someone I aspire to be. I think Riya is a very exceptional character. Of course, I was a runner in my boarding school too. But that’s about it.

So is this a story that talks about your youth?
I think Nikhil and Riya’s generation is exactly like my generation. The world I experienced in my boarding school, is the world I put in the book. If I would have set the book in today’s time, then it would be more virtual. There’s so much of love, break-up and make-up happening on WhatsApp. That’s how love stories happen nowadays.
My next love story would be a virtual love story. But before that, I would love to write a sequel to this book. The narrator would be young Riya.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Who is a man? Who is a woman?

Kannada play Akshayambara explores the male-female fluidity on and off stage. Director and actor, Sharanya Ramprakash dwells on this

It’s the scene of Draupadi vastra-apaharan, Dushyasana pauses in the middle of disrobing
Draupadi; the moment passes and then he begins to disrobe her again. At the end of the scene, both the actors (Draupadi and Dushyasana/Duryodhan) sit in their green room, silent, but communicating their vulnerabilities to each other and to the audience.

While watching the Kannada play Akshayambara (akshay means unending, while ambara means cloth and together it refers to Krishna coming to the aid of Draupadi in the vastraharan episode), one tries to comprehend — What does it mean to be a man? And should a woman symbolise femininity and nothing else?

These are the questions that we grapple with in our everyday lives. Watching them unfold on the stage, we gain a third eye perspective. That’s because the role of Kaurava or Pradhan Purush Vesha was played by a woman actor, and Draupadi was enacted by a Stree Vesha or a male actor.

The Kannada play is in many ways unique and simple — simple, because we are used to male actors playing the role of women. However, when a female actor steps into a man’s shoes, the tradition is questioned. That’s the USP of this play.

Sharanya Ramprakash, who has written and directed Akshayambara, also enacted the role of the two Kauravas. The format of the play was Yakshagana, which has been a male domain until recently. Ramprakash won a scholarship to study Yakshagana art form at its centre in Udupi. Explaining about the male-female fluidity as seen in it, she says, “I wanted to tell a story that questions assumptions and challenges status quo in a traditional set up. The play examines how the entry of women into the intellectual discourse of Yakshagana can affect traditional interpretation of the male-centric narrative. What happens to the interpretation of gender when a Stree Vesha and an actual woman occupy the same stage? What happens when this woman is cast as the Pradhana Purusha Vesha? Who then is the real woman and the real man?”

The Yakshagana art form, prevalent mainly in Karnataka, is performed through the male perspective. It is a tradition of argumentation, so it gives great freedom to varying interpretations of our epics and gods and goddesses, depending on the scholarship and ability of the performer. “But,” Ramprakash points out, “since female roles are performed by men, the representation of women and their arguments and positions in performance are also in the male perspective.”

The crux of the play is how the real life equations change when genders are reversed in performance. When tradition allows a man to be accepted as a woman, can the same tradition accept the reverse?

To expound on this question, Ramprakash chose the Draupadi vastra-apaharana episode. A woman in the garb of a man plays the rapacious Dushyasana, driven by lust and power, while the man plays Draupadi, who has to beg Dushyasana to spare her dignity, appealing to the court and espousing the cause of a woman.

“Off stage, in the cauki (green room), the power equations between the two actors are completely reversed. The play shifts constantly between the prasanga and scenes in the cauki. I wanted to explore the many conflicts this situation throws up and ask questions about tradition, gender, power and morality,” explains the actor.

So in future, can we see women enacting the role of men in Yakshagana? To which Ramprakash replies, “This is not important. What is important is that women are able to find their own space for intellectual discourse and debate — whether it is within Yakshagana or in a corporate office. This is the real concern. When a woman enters a male dominated space, things change — assumptions are questioned. I want this performance to be the beginning of a new artistic journey, I want to undertake as a woman and a performer. I want to negotiate and challenge both modernity and tradition, for I feel the answer lies in both and neither.”.

Men in the city

Neel Chaudhuri’s Still & Still Moving, which will be staged today at the 9th Annual Vinod Doshi Theatre Festival, is about a fractured love story with the Delhi Metro used as a metaphor in the interactions between men commuters.

The introduction of Delhi Metro has changed the way people travel in the capital and NCR.
That’s also the premise of Neel Chaudhuri’s play, Still & Still Moving. The Tadpole Repertory production tries to track how the dynamics of relations between men have changed with this mode of travel. The metro, says Chaudhuri, in the play is also a metaphor for the ‘distance’ that the two lovers are trying to overcome. We chatted up Chaudhuri prior to the staging of the play.

Title tale
‘Still & Still Moving’ is a phrase from the poem by T S Eliot — T S Eliot — East Coker. Says Chaudhuri, “It’s a poem I was reading while I was writing the play and the phrase seemed very apt. It’s a beautifully summarised feeling of moving towards something — in this case, it’s the relationship between Partho and Adil. It also captures a feeling of being trapped in one place. Still & Still Moving also alludes to the metaphor of a train. As Partho says in his opening monologue, ‘In the vestiges of train, everything is still. Outside everything has changed.’ There is a stillness within movement...”

What happens in the metro
The metro became an interesting factor for Chaudhuri because he was trying to establish the emotional distance and the closeness between his lead characters. “I was interested in finding out how men exist in the city and use the metro as a space. So in the play there are about seven-eight scenes that are set in the metro and each of them looks at different interactions between them. It does two things — first, it punctuates the love story and second, it’s about two men, who live in the city and in some kind of a metaphorical way try to get closer to each other, bridging their age and cultural gap,” says Chaudhuri, who has previously directed Taaramandal.

Some things unsaid
When this play was being written, the director faced certain challenges on how to portray the relationship. Chaudhuri, in his works, often tries to leave things unsaid. Says he, “I don’t always want the characters to say everything. So there are silences and pauses. In my earlier drafts of this play, there was a lot of silence. All those who read it said it was too muted. That was a challenge for me — how to tell a love story without telling everything.”

A love story
When asked why was it important to stage a love story between two men, Chaudhuri replied, “I didn’t begin this story from the political perspective. I was thinking about two characters and their place in the city, and then the characters, as they developed in my head, were men.”
He further adds that it doesn’t mean that the politics of homosexual bonds is not important. “When we talk about gay rights, we talk from an intellectual and political point of view. One of the biggest struggles that people who are advocating gay rights is that the law is about gay sex, an ‘unnatural act’. But it’s not about love. When you are talking about love, how do you distinguish between a man and a woman’s love and the one between two men? One of the things that plagues our society is that a large percentage of people look at homosexual act as abnormal. And, therefore it stigmatises the love aspect as well,” he explains.

Chaudhuri finds our society paradoxical. He says India is a homo-social society. Male friendships here are far more affectionate than most others in the world. “For that reason, we wanted to look at the story simply as a love story. To me, if someone comes and watches Still & Still Moving and thinks it as a love story with heartbreak and wonder, and beauty, then I feel that the play is a success,” he concludes.

She watches your back

Corporate lawyer and investigator Sagarika Chakraborty heads a company, which helps in solving espionage and money laundering cases amongst other things. She talks about the risks involved in the job

As glamorous as it may sound, Mumbai-based Sagarika Chakraborty’s job involves great risk too. A corporate investigator, Chakraborty has to solve high-end corporate espionage and money trail fraud cases. Here she explains her unconventional career choice...

You have done law and then MBA. But chose to be a protection agent. Can you explain your journey?
I am a corporate lawyer from National Law University, Jodhpur. I had a three year stint with corporate law, before deciding that intelligence management and security studies was my calling. Unfortunately, the same is not a chosen field of study in India and therefore there is a lack of graduate courses. I then chose the best available option by doing an MBA in Strategy Management from Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.

What does your work entail?
I am a corporate investigator and a security risk consultant. My work entails a myriad of things — right from solving one of the high end corporate espionage cases, to doing money trail about the NPA / fraud cases you read in paper, to conducting event security for a corporate, securing one of the latest releases against piracy, doing information security forensics for a corporate giant, interviewing a suspect or taking care of a corporate honcho through executive protection.

Why did you choose this career?

The profession chose me. It called out to me one day during my stint as a corporate lawyer, when I was assisting in an anti- money laundering case. I realised that I am made for detection, analytics and that nothing gives me more pleasure than strategising security codes and making an investigation plan.

What are the qualities required to become an investigator?

There is no school that can teach you to be an investigator or a risk professional. A sharp memory, good sensory approaches, heightened analytical and logical reasoning ability are a few skills that shall help you.

Do you have a team who helps in the groundwork?
I am the CEO of a startup called IIRIS with a team of over 70 people (in India). We do our own ground work — for unless you know how to dig intelligence yourself, you cannot truly be an investigator. So based on the skill set and trainings obtained, we conduct surveillance, enquiries, trails, research, interviews and so on.

What’s a busy working day in the life of a protection agent/spy?
We are always working and on guard, for you never know when an investigation will need your attention. There have been times when I have gone without sleep for three days, working as per different time zones and yet wished that the days were longer.

A typical day involves client meetings, presentations, on ground investigations, forensic analysis, data analytics and a host of other things. It also involves playing with a lot of cool gadgets and getting to shape the newspaper headlines of the next day!

Have there been any incidents when you were taken for a ride?
To say a ‘no’ would be to lie. Like with every profession, there are inherent risks — however, here the level of risks is quite often very high. The threats that we receive are sometimes subtle and sometimes direct. There are often informers and sources who betray you. You learn along the way, how to mitigate trouble and create back up plans.

Does this work involve co-operating with police? How do they treat you?
We often need to work very closely with the police department. Contrary to the popular belief, the Indian police is actually extremely co-operative and very perceptive. The senior and junior officers alike, are eager to help and I am proud to say that I have picked up a few of my best skills from their tips and while shadowing them in investigations.

'Atonement is the best we can hope for’

The notes and references for An Era of Darkness runs into 22 pages. Despite this, Shashi Tharoor’s work shedding light on the British rule in India is neither a heavy tome nor is it meant only for erudite scholars. In his book, the Congress MP makes a case for India’s humiliation under the British rule and insists on at least an apology from the British Prime Minister. Excerpts from an email chat:

When you say that British kids need to know of the atrocities perpetrated on the colonies that went into making of their nation, do you think our students too need to study history more neutrally? Indian students are caught in the Left-dictated historical interpretations vis-a-vis the Rightist view.
I see no harm in our schoolchildren being aware that history is often contested territory, to be exposed to a variety of points of view and to make up their own minds on it. The most important purpose of education is to teach children to think for themselves about such things.

India’s share of manufacturing exports fell from 27 to 2 per cent during British rule. In this context, do you think PM Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative will do Indian economy any good?
It may be a bit late to reverse the long-term effects of our de-industrialisation, but full marks to PM Modi for trying. The problem with ‘Make in India’ is that none of the major announcements, trumpeted by foreign companies so far, have actually translated into factories on the ground. And increasingly automation is making it unnecessary for Western companies to relocate to low-labour cost economies like India, something that was not true when China began its rise through manufacturing.

How would the French and Portuguese powers have ruled us, in the event, they had outmanoeuvred the British? The Portuguese rule in Goa was also brutal and ruthless.
Absolutely. What I would have wanted is for no colonial power to rule us! Kanhoji Angre taught the Portuguese a lesson or two, after all. It’s hard for any nationalist to concede that colonial rule was “inevitable”. Of course it could have been resisted, and in many places it was, but the Brits’ superior weaponry and organisation, and our own rulers’ disunity and opportunism, prevailed.
The main difference with the French (or the Portuguese, for that matter) is that the British were not interested in assimilation. No brown-skinned Indian was ever empowered to say “I am British” before 1947, the way a black Senegalese or brown Algerian would proudly say, “Je suis francais”.

In the chapter on ‘Did British Give India the Political Unity?’ you have mentioned that our epics, the Ramayana and Mahabharata, were the cultural threads and reflect the same national idea. But now these epics are touted as an idea of a Hindu nation.
I feel strongly that the whole idea of Indian nationalism was welcoming, open and inclusive. As a secular liberal, I am proud to cite the epics with pride as a vital part of my cultural heritage. I think something corrective is indeed necessary for our excessively Western-centred education, which was itself a colonial legacy (as I show in the book) — but the chauvinists have gone too far. I am totally in favour of teaching the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the works of Kalidasa in our schools. I would also agree with offering Sanskrit, Tamil or one of the languages recognised by the Government of India as “classical”.
It’s when the Hindutva agenda wants to go beyond all this to impose the beliefs of Savarkar, Golwalkar and Deen Dayal Upadhyaya in the classroom that I draw the line.

There is a larger issue here. My basic analysis of colonialism should be acceptable to Marxists and Hindutva types alike, as well as Congress nationalists. But we disagree when I speak of 200 years of foreign rule — and they speak of 1200 years, to include Muslim rulers as well.

As far as I am concerned, the Muslim rulers were unlike the British, because they stayed and assimilated here, married into Indian society and made this country their home. And even if you argue that these rulers looted India, they also spent their loot in India, whereas the British drained our resources for the benefit of their faraway homeland.

In the chapter ‘Residual problems of colonialism’, you have referred to the present day issues rooted in colonialism. Can the solutions too be found in the past?

I have argued that an apology would help: you can’t undo the wrongs done in the past but you can cleanse the pain with an apology in the present. How do you place a monetary value on all that India suffered and lost under British rule? British rule deindustrialised India; created landlessness and poverty; sowed seeds of division and inter-communal hatred that led to Partition; and was directly responsible for the deaths of three and a half crore people in unnecessary and mismanaged famines.

There’s really no compensation for all this that would even begin to be adequate, or credible. Atonement is therefore the best we can hope for. An apology by their Prime Minister to India, as Canada’s Trudeau did recently over the Komagata Maru incident, would signal true atonement.

Imagine a British PM, on the centenary of Jallianwalla Bagh, apologising to Indians for the massacre and by extension for all colonial injustices — that would be better than any sum of reparations.

Be a Bharatvasi

Design guru Subrata Bhowmick, who was in the city recently, urges everyone to wear our identity — our textiles.

Dressed in white churidar kurta with an intricate embroidered shawl draped over his shoulder, design guru Subrata Bhowmick is an epitome of ‘Indianess’. The credit for which he would give to the artisans, the tribes whom he prefers to call as ‘True Bharatvasi’.

“Our artisans, and their art, have grown from our soil. Their art is pure. I was in Bhubaneswar and saw a dance show by the tribals on the first day. On second day, we saw a documentary and on third day, we were taken to see Saura paintings. I wanted to meet the painter and ask for his signature. He couldn’t sign though. Nevertheless, his identity and in turn our identity is through his paintings, his art work,” says Bhowmick, who is the jury member of National Institute of Design and also of National Institute of Fashion Technology.

Bhowmick, who was the honorary speaker at the recently concluded Pune Design Festival in the city, in his speech said that the culture and craft are the soul of Indian design. “Each Indian state has a different art and each art is creative. Over the years, the silhouette hasn’t changed, but the embroidery has. The tribes are identified through their clothes. But the contemporary designers are looking only at the commercial aspect. Their designs look the same,” he added.

To bring in more variety and to be a repository of our culture and heritage, the design students need to go to gurukuls — the craftsman’s house. “Our design students are confined in the four walls of classroom. That’s not what learning is. We used to have an environmental exposure module in NID, where students would go to village. But I wonder if they are doing it out of their choice? Or are they forced to go? I think seeing is learning,” explains the design guru.

He also goes on to add that any place you go to, the first thing you see is a building. That identifies the place. But when it comes to artisans’ colony or their houses, there’s so much of variety; they add so many different things. However, designers create the same thing.

“I happened to visit Raghurajpur in Odisha. I saw many houses with their exterior walls painted in vivid colours. Later, I learnt that the Government of India has alloted Rs 10 crore to make Raghurajpur a modern village. That means modern construction, which also means that the painted walls will die. What are we doing? Why don’t we provide amenities to our villagers, but at the same time, ensure that our traditions and arts continue to flourish,” says Bhowmick, who was the design director of the Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahmedabad.

He also took a swipe at the Western textiles and fabrics being pumped into the market. “They will keep pumping their stuff in our country, and well, we will become pumpkins,” he says, adding, “It is important to connect with other the countries, but also understand and treasure our own values. If we don’t do it, then who will do it for us?”

Surely something to ponder on!

Make art simple

n a free-wheeling conversation, renowned Mumbai-based sculptor Arzan Khambatta tells us how understanding art is not a complicated affair.

A chat with architect-sculptor Arzan Khambatta is like being a part of a rapid fire round — he is quick with his replies, frank and non-judgmental. On the sidelines of the 11th Pune Design Festival, Khambatta talks about aesthetics, art appreciation and how he loves to work on the initial brief. Here he goes:

Deconstructing art-

At Pune Design Festival, organised by Association of Designers of India, Pune Chapter, Khambatta spoke on the theme ‘Trans.form’. “Using my work, I have designed the whole talk around the theme. I have thought of something which revolves around the abstract language of aesthetics and can be transformed by a good designer into a physical form,” says Khambatta.

But what if the layman isn’t able to understand his public sculptures? Quick to respond, Khambatta says, “I have got a take on this. Many people don’t go to art galleries giving the reason that they don’t understand modern art. I tell them, ‘Don’t try to understand it. Go to the gallery, see the works and find out if you like them or not.”

His mantra is that art appreciation should be kept simple. “Let people learn about art slowly. Automatically, they will progress. Don’t suddenly shove them into a gallery when they are not used to it and give them so many details about art that they get confused. Don’t make them think, ‘this is so big that I have no capacity to admire it.’

When it comes to his public sculptures, Khambatta applies the same principle. “I design them in such a way that they can form a link with the viewers, which include a sweeper, driver, petrol pump attendant or a millionaire,” he adds.

Mediocrity vs excellence-

However, gazing at art is not the same as having the ability to distinguish between mediocre and excellent art. “That I think depends on the individual,” says Khambatta adding that you need to have a great exposure to art to be able to distinguish between good and bad art. “What you say is true — sometimes when I go to Jehangir Art Gallery, I walk through the entrance and at one glance I come to know if the work is mediocre or not. That has come after so many years of viewing art and forming your own rules,” he shares.

And what if his art is dismissed by the uninitiated? Does that disappoint him? Khambatta quickly replies, “I expect some reaction to my work. When some clients sport a dumb expression to my work, I don’t like it. I go and tell the architect, ‘Ask him to open his mouth and tell me if he liked it or not. Don’t give me this expression’.”

Client vision vs artistic expression-

Khambatta, who is also known as ‘Iron Man’, says he is open to the client’s brief. “My forte is commissioned sculptures. Till now, clients have given me a complete free hand. Sometimes they say, ‘I don’t like figures. I like abstract.’ That’s fine with me. I can do so many things within that framework. In 2001-02, a client in Mumbai approached me with an idea for a traffic island.

He said he wanted a sculpture of dolphins there. That saved my thinking time. Now, of course, if he had demanded something ridiculous, like a Red Indian, I wouldn’t have made it.

Sometime back someone showed me the sculpture on google maps; the spot is marked as Arzan Khambatta’s dolphin island,” he grins.

The closet painter and fitness enthusiast doesn’t think that the initial briefs from clients are crippling. In fact he also prefers to be given a reasonable time frame. “You better give an artist a time frame, else his mind will wander and work will not get done,” he quips with a smile.

Khambatta believes there are small rules which are not written, but become a part of the discipline that define your work. “For instance, if I am visiting someone’s house full of art, and if I spot one painting which is half an inch off, it bothers me a lot, until it’s set right,” he says with a laugh.

The artist, who is also coming out with his pen and ink series, says he is a little cautious with colours. “I like colours, but when it comes to using them in my paintings, I don’t go beyond black, blue and white. If I have to, then I douse my sculptures in a splash. That’s a setback,” he points out.

To live and let go

Why is a woman called the original sinner? And, how does she cope with it? Filmmaker Aniruddha Sen talks about all this and more in his The Saints of Sin — Seven Sins, Eight Women, which is worth a watch.

At the recently-concluded Pune Design Festival in the city, The Saints of Sin — Seven Sins, Eight Women — shot by Aniruddha Sen, was screened. Our immediate reaction was: ‘No way. Who wants to watch sob stories of women?’

By some chance of fate, we did watch Sen’s The Saints of Sin... and was drawn into the documentary film almost instantly. In the following Q and A session, you will learn about Sen’s (popularly known as Oni) thoughts in shooting the documentary. And more importantly, why should we steer clear of labelling women as ‘shopaholic’ or ‘vain’. Excerpts from the conversation:

If a woman filmmaker had shot The Saints of Sin... perhaps she would have felt a sense of catharsis. What did you feel after shooting each segment/ or after the entire documentary?

I have faced this question before. This seems like a project that a woman filmmaker would naturally take up. In fact, the original idea of the film came from a woman, my friend Swati Bhattacharya. But when I took this up and started making it, I did not look at this as a film only about women. To me, it was more than that.

It was a film about human lives, of stories and triumphs. They just happen to be women. That said, this has been an overwhelming journey for me. Some of the stories are so strong, so raw and yet so beautiful… it was difficult being objective and I had to remind myself that this is a film I am making. The idea was not to be sensational or vivid for the sake of getting attention.

How did you go about identifying the ‘sins’ and convincing the women to talk about them?

When Swati came to me with the concept, she had identified a bunch of women. A few of them, I knew quite well, but all of them were known to Swati for a long time. That was a great start, to find characters who have interesting, inspiring lives, who fit into the structure of the film and are willing to share their lives and stories.

But once we started filming and putting it altogether, a lot changed… we changed some characters, reshot the segments with new characters. For instance, Pradipta in the ‘Envy’ section was not part of the original plan. I have known Pradipta for long, but did not consider her as a part of this film. It’s only after the first edit, when I was looking for someone else for that section, I happened to chat with Pradipta and realised how apt and powerful her story is. That’s when she became a part of the project.
Even though all the characters were known to either me or Swati, I still wanted to keep the sessions intimate and personal. Therefore, I did not use a crew; I shot it myself. So the only people in the room, apart from the woman being interviewed, were Swati and I. This ensured in keeping the realism, warmth and ease of conversation intact.

In Shreya’s (gluttony) segment, the audience laughed a couple of times. Did that upset you because they couldn’t realise the real story behind her gluttony?

Shreya is a young woman and, like many we know, is spunky and full of life. What makes her character beautiful is that, in spite of going through extremely unpleasant moments in her childhood, she has not let that dampen her spirit and joy for life. She knows herself, she is honest enough to admit the path she chose. While it seemed frivolous to others, for her, it was important. It helped her heal the wounds and move on in life. It’s not a conventional path, but it is “her” way of dealing with life. And she does that with spunk, style and no regrets. That’s why when the audience laugh or get amused by some of her stories, I don’t get upset at all. I believe they are not “laughing at her”. It’s a laughter of being amused and feeling what Shreya felt.

The documentary was shot for three years. Was it because of lack of funds or allowing the women time and space to express their thoughts?

This film took time to finish because of the nature of the project. When we started, we did not have a specific form in mind. The film structure and form evolved through the project. We have edited the film at least five to six times before we arrived at a structure that made sense. We also re-shot segments that we thought were not in sync with the tune of the film. And halfway thorough the process, I realised that the film needed ‘songs’… that would add the correct colour to the segments. That took a while — to identify the songs, the singers and then to shoot all of them in Dhaka. All of these added to the time taken to finish the project.

All the segments were shot in the women’s homes. Was that a deliberate setting?

I wanted this film to be very intimate and real where the camera is non-existent. I wanted the characters to be comfortable with the camera and the space, because for some of them, this was the first time they were opening up and talking about their lives in detail. That is one of the main reasons I decided to shoot in their homes.

The other reason is of course to present a complete image of the character and surroundings. For instance, the somewhat bare, cold surroundings of the ‘Wrath’ section, the beautifully ornate home in the ‘Vanity’ section, the colourful, raw yet warm and inviting home in the ‘Lust’ section…. They all add to the narrative in a subliminal manner. This cannot be ‘created’. It has to be ‘there’. That’s why, I decided to shoot the segments at the characters’ homes.

In fact, the songs have been shot the same way… mostly at the home of the singers. Because, even for the songs, I wanted them to be a part of the same realism.

You have used Dr Aruna Chakravarti’s comments to explain the original sin. Can you elaborate?

Dr Aruna Chakravarti talks about Sins and Women. She mentions a mythological story where Lilith and not Eve was the first woman created along with Adam, and how she was considered a sinner only because she demanded her rights, which made her a woman, the original sinner.

This also underlines the core of the film. ‘Sins’ is just a word. We end up adding a colour of ‘wrong-doing’ to it. It’s just a human trait, it’s circumstantial, it can also be a virtue. The women in this film acknowledge this trait — some of them have coped with it, some are learning to live with it and some are celebrating it. To some, it adds colour to their lives and to others, it helps them heal their wounds.

Her idea of paradise

Debutante author Zuni Chopra is full of stories. Here, she talks about her novel, The House That Spoke, and magic and darkness.

The House That Spoke —that’s the title of Zuni Chopra’s novel. The 15-year-old author is the daughter of Bollywood film director, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and film critic Anupama Chopra. But the Chopra girl doesn’t need to rest on her parents’ laurels — even if the story is sprinkled liberally with her father and his family’s memories of Kashmir. The book has been published by Penguin Random House.

Kashmir memories
“We try to go to Kashmir once a year. It’s dad’s home,” says Chopra, adding, “As a kid, I never understood why the place wasn’t packed with tourists. It has such beautiful landscape. To me, therefore, it was like a paradise that only we knew about. Now, as I have grown older, I realised that political conflict is the reason why there aren’t too many people around. That made into the book.”

The House That Spoke, which is a magical fantasy, also captures the ordinariness of the lives of Kashmiris. And, though the book is set in present, some of the actions and scenes are dug from the Chopra family’s pool of memories. “I interviewed my family. I asked them questions about growing up in Kashmir and the joys of childhood. I wanted them to answer questions on how their daily life was — what they did in school, where did they leave their chappals when they came home, etc. They may be in Mumbai now, but every detail of Kashmir is etched in their mind clearly. I also discovered how they ran out barefoot in winter, picked up a log of wood, ran back into the house and tossed it in the fireplace. I have mentioned this too in my writing. At my Mumbai home, there’s a beautiful painting of my great grandfather put up alongside pictures of other relatives. I knew I had to include the painting in my book. So I would see things around the house and make notes. The memories are invaluable,” says the Xth grader.

The story of the home
In the book, the protagonist Zoon Razdan talks to objects and furnitures in the house and the inanimate objects too talk amongst themselves. So does she do something familiar?
“No! That would make me a wacko! But I know the attachment Zoon has for her house. I have a lovely house in Mumbai and my cousin’s lake house in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, is a little paradise too. We visit it almost every summer and the Bloomfield hills look so beautiful. The lake surrounded by cherry blossom trees and the perfect weather make it all so gorgeous. So I am in love with the house and of course the people in it. The aspects of the girl (Zoon) caring for a house and caring for the elements in it came from this home. I also wrote the book in the lakehouse home,” gushes Chopra.

And what about the similarities between Zoon Razdan and Zuni Chopra? “Well, I know people would automatically assume that I am Zoon. But I am not. I like my name and what it means, so I named the character. I would say that she is the kind of girl I would like to be friends with,” explains the youngster.

The magic in her tale
Chopra has always been drawn to magic. “I would love stories and telling stories that had magic in them. And, not even obvious magic, even Neil Gaiman-kind of magic would do. And, of course Alice in Wonderland and Harry Potter-kind of magic,” Chopra says with a smile. She always told stories to herself and none of the stories ever took place in the real world. “I remember one of my prized possessions. It was a castle with a ‘secret door’ that you could tap open, which was with me for long. Dad finally gave it away to my cousin sister,” she adds.

The dark factor
Magic is incomplete without darkness. And The House That Spoke has ‘Kruhen Clay’ in it. Initially, Chopra based this character as an interview subject. “I would conduct interviews with darkness as a subject in my head and type out the answers. Slowly, it became clear how it will speak, and its body language. I made darkness more concrete by treating him as a human character,” explains Chopra.

She had also drawn rough sketches which resembled a snake. “But my dad and so many others pointed out that it was so boring. Then I made him a reflection of a warped human. He is made up of human ideas and emotions, but he has no idea of what they mean,” she says.

Full of stories, the 15-year-old is relieved that the book is out and she can go back to appearing for her exams. “I have got Physics exam on Monday. Wish me luck,” she says before signing off.

‘Music has to be open and welcoming of all’

We go down memory lane with Pandit Jasraj, learn about him and his music while his daughter Durga explains why it’s necessary to make music more accessible to the layperson

In one of his previous interviews, Sangeet Martand Pt Jasraj had said, “If you see an artist approaching a stage, you can easily spot his particular gharana’. When we met him at his Pune residence on Thursday, the import of the sentence made sense. Meeting him and his senior disciple, Pt Sanjeev Abhyankar, you realise that they have no airs about their exalted status. They are warm, welcoming, humble and willing to share all that they have learnt over the years. Elaborating on the statement mentioned earlier, the octogenarian classical vocalist, says, “If you are a keen observer of classical music and the musicians, you will notice there are certain similarities amongst the musicians of the same gharana. Of course on the stage we have our distinct styles. That’s how it should be.”

Pt Jasraj will be performing in the city today, along with Pt Vishwamohan Bhatt, Taufiq Qureshi, Subhankar Banerjee, Sridhar Parthasarthy, Bangalore Amrit, Rattan Mohan Sharma, Ankita Joshi, Shashank S and Pravin Godkhindi at SBI-Panchtatva. An initiative of Art and Artists, a company founded by Durga Jasraj and Neeraj Jaitly, the artists will bring to life one element of the Panchmahabhuta — Earth, Water, Fire, Space and Wind — to life, through their music.

It’s a little easier to imagine the compositions related to water and fire, but earth which refers to both the planet and the life-giving qualities, is difficult to discern. Pt Jasraj will be presenting the composition on this element. When asked if there are any specific ragas that he would be presenting to the audience, he smiles and lifting his hands, gestures upwards, indicating that the divine presence would dictate his choice. “I can’t tell you what I am going to play now. I never plan,” he says slowly.

His daughter, Durga, steps in to explain, “Music is intangible. It’s a surreal experience and the way the singer sings and how the audience relates to it, is different each time.”

While this sounds intimidating to those uninitiated in classical music, Durga wants to ‘open up the world of music from the rarefied atmosphere’. “In Lucknow, where we had taken this event (Panchtatva), some rickshaw pullers were a part of the audience. The organisers were miffed and objected to their presence. I had a big fight with them. I told them, ‘If Bapuji’s music or Rashidsahab’s composition resonate with the rickshaw-wallas, then why not? Who said classical music can only be appreciated by a certain section of society? The connoisseurs are our assets but in order to preserve our cultural heritage, we need a bigger audience. The initiation into classical music has to be taken up at mass level,” she blazes, just like her name.

That’s the reason why Durga and Jaitly have been working on their brands like Idea Jalsa, Jasrangi and Panchtatva, making it more accessible to the layperson, and in case of Panchtatva, making it an unticketed performance.

“We have researched a lot on this project and as I speak, we continue making additions, trying to make Panchtatva entertaining, but not trivial. We have roped in the best of the animators and VFX specialists; my mother and Shyam Gosaviji helped me with the Rig Ved shlokas. We have interspersed the compositions with poetry pieces. All these come together to represent ‘life’. The piece on ‘life’ is by Nida Fazli. All this in order to make us aware of the fragility of our existence in this world. We are just one part of the big order of life — Srishti. Music is a big influencer and that’s why we have the Panchtatva event to tell us to be a little conscientious about our eco-system. In the process, if someone also begins to take serious interest in classical music, then we are truly blessed. We have mentors like Sanjeev (Abhyankar) who can explain the finer nuances of music,” she adds.

Her father, who has been listening patiently all this while, says, “We have to be open and accepting of each other’s views. My spiritual guru, Raja Jaywant Singhji has said that music has to be open and welcoming of all. Unfortunately, now we have become matwale and refuse to listen to the other’s opinion.”

Jasrajji’s ethos are rooted in the past, and that’s what he has passed on to his students and family members. At the same time, he is at ease with technology. Reminiscing compositions like Aadha Hai Chandrama from his father-in-law Shantaramji’s film, he is stuck with the name of the film. Abhyankar turns to Google and the answer pops up — Navrang. “Google Guru ki jai ho,” chuckles Panditji. A perfect synthesis of the old and new.