Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Baluchari sarees, timeless weaves

During a recent visit to the beautiful town of Bishnupur in West bengal's Bankura District, I was fascinated by the sight of local weavers creating magic on their looms.

Intricate Baluchari saris are works of art woven in silk. The borders and pallu are embellished with exquisite motifs inspired by the epics, mythology and traditional texts, as also scenes from courtly life. Each panel of these delicately woven sarees tells a timeless story. A single sari can depict an entire episode from the Mahabharata or Ramayana, woven into its border and pallu. The magical weaves with their centuries-old tradition continue to enchant through generations. They take pride of place in the heirloom collection of Bengali women.

Baluchari sari. Photo by authorTraditional Baluchari sarees are woven in the history-steeped town of Bishnupur, in West Bengal’s Bankura district. There are several clusters of weavers here who continue to create enchanting sarees. Haradhan Bishoi oversees one such setup, where eight or nine weavers work at any given time. The mulberry silk is sourced locally, he tells us. The entire process, from rearing silkworms, to spinning and dyeing the yarn, and then designing and weaving sarees, is done locally. The fine and soft local silk has a unique lustre. To make the yarn supple and shiny, it is boiled in a mixture of soda and soap and then dyed. Designing these sarees requires elaborate planning and execution. Each saree takes two expert weavers, working by turns, around a week to weave. The more complex ones can take much longer. The sarees are hand-woven on jacquard punch-card looms. Creating intricate designs for the border, butis and pallus of Baluchari sarees is an elaborate process. The design is drawn on a graph paper and then punched on cards. After punching, these cards are joined in sequence and fixed in the jacquard machine. These coded and punched chains of jacquard cards control the movement of the warp on the loom to create finely woven details in silk.

My published article may be read in Sunday Herald

I've received several inquiries from readers for Bishnupur contacts and replied individually. For others who might be interested, here are the contacts of Haradhan Bishoi.  They have an excellent collection of saris for all budgets, for sale wholesale and retail.

Anuvab, manufacturers of Baluchari and Swarnachari sarees.
Dist. Bankura,
West Bengal

phone; 03244-256308

hope this helps,

Friday, November 09, 2012

active ageing; is the best yet to be?

“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be,”

Robert Browning’s immortal words now ring truer than ever. The time is ripe to celebrate the golden years. People are living longer and healthier, thanks to improved healthcare and nutrition. Scientific advances are banishing dreaded diseases and prolonging life expectancy. Research on the human genome, for example, is poised to take us beyond merely fighting diseases, and perhaps enable our thathas and ajjis to race like Usain Bolt.

Seniors are growing into a force to reckon with. In almost every country, the proportion of people above 60 years is growing faster than any other age group, as a result of both longer life expectancy and declining birth rates. India has an estimated 100 million elderly persons, which is the second largest in the world. The population of senior citizens in India is projected to reach 179 million by 2031. By 2050, the world’s population aged 60 and over is expected to more than triple from 600 million to 2 billion. The world is growing older, and hopefully wiser. Within the next five years, the number of adults aged 65 and over will outnumber children under the age of five.

Our very own Big B’s recent 70th birthday celebrations has highlighted the glamour, success, aspirations and joys of folks who seem to be growing more vibrant with passing years. Yet Baghban, a 2003 film starring Amitabh Bachchan, also portrayed the pitfalls sadly faced by many Indian seniors. They do their best to provide for their children. But, once the parents are no longer able to support themselves, their children often consider them as a liability. Abandonment and abuse of elders is on the rise, not just in remote western cultures, but right in our own neighbourhoods. As life spans are increasing, the menace of age-related debilities like Alzheimer’s add to the woes of elders.
Let’s consider the privileges and problems of ageing, and see how the balance sheet tallies. Read my  full article published in Sunday Herald

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

random reads in a lighter vein

Buy Birds, Beasts and Bandits: 14 Days with Veerappan Birds, Beasts and Bandits: 14 days with Veerappan
Authors; Krupakar and Senani    Tranlator: S. R. Ramakrishna    Penguin Rs250/-

Truth can not only be stranger than fiction, real-life escapades can be filled with excitement, insights and even some chuckles. It was just another day at work for wildlife photographers Krupakar and Senani, who were clicking away at the creatures of Bandipur National Park. Veerappan, the dreaded poacher and sandalwood bandit mistook them for important government officials and kidnapped them. The photographers were herded by the bandits to a life on the run through the forest. They got a chance to closely observe the rich variety of wildlife in the forest. Close contact with the wild and dangerous bandits was just as enlightening. The terrible Veerappan, reputed to have murdered several hundred people, shows glimpses of his intelligent human side. He and his gang exemplify all the complexities of human nature. The narration is lively and laced with humorous touches. Overall a refreshing and informative read.

Buy The Shadow Throne: BookThe Shadow Throne    By Aroon Raman   Pan   Rs.250/-
An exciting thriller with loads of twists and turns that will keep readers on the edge of their seats. What began as a murder enquiry soon morphs into a deadly game of hide-and-seek within the shadowy world of Pakistan’s ISI and India’s RAW; and Chandra, his friend history professor Meenakshi Pirzada and Hassan find themselves in a race against time to avert a sub-continental nuclear holocaust. As the action moves to its hair-raising climax among the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan, Chandra must face up to the fact that Inspector Hassan is not all that he seems…A riveting thriller set right in our  own backyard and starring people we might know in passing.

Buy Coup D'Etat: BookCoup D'Etat   Author: Ben Coes   Pan   Rs.350/-
When a brutal attack in Kashmir causes the breakdown of fragile peace between India and Pakistan, a rapidly escalating shooting war spins out of control. As the conflict reaches a deadly point of no return, it becomes clear that India is only days from resorting to the kind of attack that would put world peace at peril. With the world on the brink of disaster, the US collaborates to send its very best people to help avert an international crisis.
Not a memorable thriller. Credibility can stretch a bit too thin at times. A light pageturner for a rainy weekend or to while away the time at airport lounges.

Buy The Onus Of Karma The Onus of Karma  Author: Rudra Krishna   Penguin  Rs. 250/-
Swashbuckling adventure meets mythological fable in eighteenth-century Madras. The collection of kingdoms that will soon be India, is in turmoil. The eAst India Company controls much of the north and has ambitions to take over the entire subcontinent. In the south, Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan furiously resist the advances of the British.

In these desperate times, Ramaswami Aiyar, scion of the family which has for generations been the temple priests of an obscure little village near Kanchipuram, decides that the pious life is not for him and joins the police force. He soon discovers that the temple—and the family— he rejected protect the srichakra, the divine wheel given to man by Lord Shiva himself. The srichakra, symbol of Dharma on earth, is an instrument of tremendous power, with potential for great good or great evil, and both the British and Haider Ali want it. And even as Ramaswami finds himself cast as protector of the chakra, he understands the role of destiny in his life and the inevitability of fate.

There's been a clutch of books in this genre of late, which have garnered immense popularity. This story is tightly-written and an entertaining, worthwhile read. Also, it's set in historical South India, and this probably makes it different from the other mythology based fantasies.

Buy The Masala Murder: Book  The Masala Murder  Author: Madhumita Bhattacharyya   Pan  Rs.250/-

A brand new and lively, well-written read.There's mystery, and emotion, and romance with a "Prince Charming on a rather greasy charger'", and the fast paced action happens in a very Indian milieu. The cover seems at first glance to be another instalment of the Inspector Singh investigates series. There could have been more originality and distinctiveness there.

Reema Ray, private investigator and food writer didn’t set out to become Calcutta’s expert in infidelity cases, but that is where her detective agency has taken her. When the deceit gets too much, she finds a welcome distraction and a means to pay the bills by becoming a food critic for a magazine.
Her worlds collide when a gourmet provisions supplier she had once profiled ends up dead under suspicious circumstances. Her food-obscured nose can still sniff out a murder, and she decides to launch her own investigation. Then her ex-boyfriend shows up at her doorstep when he finds himself being treated as prime suspect in the kidnapping of his own wife! Suddenly, Reema is handling not one but two cases. With no access to official evidence, she relies on the meddling group of do-gooders she has dubbed the Calcutta Crime-Fighter’s Club. If all this wasn’t trouble enough, the alluring Shayak Gupta turns up around every corner, and while she can’t seem to resist him, she doesn’t believe a word he says either.
This first Reema Ray mystery follows a comical ride through Calcutta as Reema comes to terms with her feelings about the men in her life while whipping up delicious meals and being beset by criminals and the police alike!


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Black Ice and Mahmud Rahman

Memories Across Borders
This novel by one of Bangladesh’s leading writers exemplifies the little-publicised-but-striking writing being produced on the other side of our nation’s borders.
Mahmudul Haque (1941 – 2008), was a critically acclaimed author of 10 novels and numerous short stories. His life illustrates the close cultural ties binding India and Bangladesh. Haque spent his childhood in Barasat outside Kolkata, and his later years in Dhaka. He considered Black Ice (Kalo Baraf in Bengali), to be his favourite work.

First published in 1977, in Bengali, Black Ice draws upon Mahmudul Haque’s personal experience of the Partition to deeply probe the invisible scars bequeathed to the inheritors of the political divide. The book is filled with protagonist Abdul Khaleq’s childhood pain and distress of leaving his country. The author’s family immigrated to East Bengal (formerly East Pakistan and now Bangladesh) when he was a child. There are some clear parallels between the fictional story and the author’s personal experiences of the Partition. “My childhood was strife-ridden, filled with the anguish of the Partition, filled with the pain of being forced out of one’s homeland.” Nevertheless, Black Ice is a work of fiction. “That’s not based on my life,” the author says. “I am not there in it.”

My detailed review of this book is published in Books and More

 The story behind this English translation is interesting in itself. Mahmud Rahman is a talented writer and author of Killing the Water. My review of the book here. Rahman shares his personal anecdotes about the author, and how this translation came about:
"The papers in Dhaka bring out weekly literature pages and late in November 2006 I read an interview with an author who was unknown to me. This interview drew me in.
 In my first attempt I tried out the familiar bookshops in Dhaka’s New Market. No one had his books. Most salesmen were not familiar with Mahmudul Haque. I lucked out a couple of weeks later, at Dhaka’s second annual book fair, a smaller one than the large February one. They had most of his books and I bought a bunch of them.

The very next day I began to read Mahmudul Haque’s novel Nirapod Tondra. I liked what I was reading and went out to the bookshops at Aziz Market to get more of Mahmudul Haque’s books. By now I had all but one of his novels and his collection of stories Protidin Ekti Rumal. I read this and translated a story from it. Soon after, a second novel Matir Jahaj. And then Kalo Borof. I observed in my journal, “I think it’s a powerful little novel, definitely worth translating.” I decided I would chose that one unless another book turned out to be more appealing. In the meantime I had begun to translate the title story of Protidin Ekti Rumal.

I also began to find a way to make contact with the author.
Right around this time I read the final two of Mahmudul Haque’s novels Oshoriri and Jibon Amar Bon. I was impressed by the lack of romanticism about 1971 in Jibon Amar Bon. In Oshoriri, I admired how much he had packed into this novel of 73 pages. I realized the he was indeed a master of the short novel. After I finished reading all the novels, I settled on Kalo Borof as the novel that seemed the ideal one for me to translate. I would have preferred Jibon Amar Bon, but I was at that point hesitant to try a novel written in much more complex language.

Finally on August 7, 2007 I dialed Mahmudul Haque’s number.
I said, “Amar nam Mahmud Rahman. Ami lekha likhi kori ar apnar golpo onubad korte shuru korechhi. Chhera Taar Daily Star-e chhapa hoyechhilo January mashe. Ekhon ami Protidin Ekti Rumal onubad korchhi. Ekta uponnash o onubad korar icchya ache. Apnar shathe dekha kora shombhob?”
He was quiet and had not interrupted me with any reaction while I had jabbered on. In a plain voice, he said, “Ashen.”
I went the next afternoon and easily found the building. IHe had me sit and then excused himself for a moment. I sat in a living room crowded with furniture, chairs, coffee and side tables, and bookshelves where the books seemed to have lain undisturbed for a while. On the other wall I could see a photo of him with a young boy. There was also a small writing desk in the living room but it was piled high with books and magazines, all old and dust covered.
He returned after putting on a tunic. And we sat down and he wouldn’t let me leave for five hours. We talked about his schooldays, the places he had lived, the history of Dhaka, his writing, his not writing, his fascination with the rural landscape of Bikrampur, his family history, his mother, his interest in gemstones, his disillusionment with Bangalis, and numerous other threads of interest. I realized he was a thoroughly engrossing storyteller.

After the initial meeting, he invited me to return and we would soon settle into a routine where I would show up about every two weeks.
That’s sad to me, that Mahmudul Haque the author, his wife Kajol who encouraged me to translate him, his brother Nazmul Haque who helped me solve an important puzzle and looked forward to the translation coming out, they all died before being able to see the final book. But I’m glad I’ve been able to share it with the children who live in Toronto and Los Angeles."


Monday, October 15, 2012

Kolkata's book street

 During a recent visit to Kolkata, I spent an afternoon exploring College Street. Rows upon rows of cluttered bookstalls, jostling browsers, the honks and rattles of quaint trams and yellow Ambassador taxis... the entire scene seems rooted in the past. A day and age when people had the time and inclination to curl up with books; when eager readers searched for that special book they had always wanted to read.

The world’s largest second-hand book bazaar and the largest book market in India, College Street featured in Time Magazine’s “Best of Asia” list in 2007. At first glance, one is overwhelmed, and a bit disappointed by the predominance of textbooks. Where are the rare old books, first editions, books in diverse Indian languages, and unusual books in and out of print from distant lands? There is also the fear of being buried alive in an avalanche of dusty tomes barely held back by sheets of corrugated tin and canvas clinging to frames of bamboo. Braving such minor hazards, adventurous souls can still seek and discover rare pearls in this sea of books. My uncle, a regular visitor to this street, discovered several gems on the course of his voyages of discovery. An exquisitely illustrated antique edition of The Rubayiat of Omar Khayyam discovered in College Street, continues to hold pride of place in his personal library.
My detailed account is published in Sunday Herald

Thursday, September 13, 2012

morality and the lack of it

Is our moral degradation hurtling us inexorably towards doomsday? Or is it a sign of our progress? After all, we are innovatively creating new ways to turn morality upside down.

The problem isn't restricted to our political leaders at the top of the rotting pyramid. Look around in every sphere of life, whether in education or in industry. So many people everywhere seem hell-bent on furthering their own agendas at the cost of the common good. This is where ordinary people like us can hope to make a small dent. We can try to persuade those close to us to modify their approach. We can, for instance, persuade folks around us who toss garbage on the streets or feel paying bribes is the only way to get things done, to reconsider their stance. Peer pressure can have a positive impact in such cases.

Little drops make the ocean.

My detailed opinion piece on this subject is published in Sunday Herald

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Violence? It's child's play

Graphic violence is available today at the click of a mouse. Technology brings our goriest fantasies to horrific life through TV, electronic video games and computers. Once upon a time, childhood was filled with innocence and gentle light.

Children grew up with charming fairy tales where good always triumphed over evil. Today the flowers of childhood are wilting before the tsunami of graphic violence flowing into our homes. Murderous monsters; bloodthirsty ghouls; stabbings, shootings and mutilations of human beings; all this and more are now regular viewing for young children. Children are often unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality. A constant barrage of gruesome electronic images can hijack vulnerable young minds. Scholarly studies show that people who frequently view violent images on television or the movies or play violent video games, are compelled to play out those impulses in real life. Other studies link a rise in criminal behaviour to violent media images, and call for a return to healthier and more decent entertainment...

Modern urban lifestyles and parenting methods support this trend towards violence. In the good old days, children spent their free time going out and playing with friends. Parks and safe playgrounds are now a rarity in our cities. Parents today are afraid of letting their children play freely outside without constant supervision. Instead, children are confined indoors for the parents’ convenience and the children’s own safety.

In the security of their homes, children freely explore the murky depths of the internet and video games. Smart children can take advantage of their parents’ lack of awareness of the latest technologies, and secretly view X-rated material at the click of a mouse. Children are spending more time viewing electronic screens, than interacting with other children. This hampers the growth of their relationships with fellow human beings, and affects their overall development into responsible adults. Busy with their own careers and making money, parents have little time to draw their children close and find out what is going on in their lives.

Are violent TV programmes and video games the root cause of escalating violence in today’s world? Or are more complicated factors at play behind our contemporary culture of blood and mayhem? Electronic images aren’t monsters with the power to corrupt normal humans into killing machines. Well-produced TV programmes can educate and inculcate sound moral values in children in a fun way. Video games can develop children’s motor skills and alertness, prevent them from feeling bored and lonely, and falling into bad company. Violence on screens is only a part of a larger problem which makes children today more aggressive.

We like to think of an ideal past when entertainment was clean and innocent. In fact, violence has always been an integral part of human culture, and often an entertaining spectacle for the masses....

My complete essay is published in Sunday Herald

Sunday, June 03, 2012

World Environment Day

The fifth of June is World Environment Day. So what’s the big deal? Every day seems to be dedicated to something, from proclaiming love from the rooftops to protecting axolotls or orangutans.

Media campaigns, green walks, street rallies, distribution and planting of saplings, slogan writing and painting contests, strings of functions and speeches — what impact does it have on people like us?

We continue to slouch in our cosy synthetic leather beanbags, drooling over junk food and gaping at the idiot box, craving for more, more, more. Consider the everyday example of plastic bags, which we recklessly use and throw.

This is among the many environmental hazards created by people like us. Our Supreme Court recently called for a curb on the use of plastics, citing its harmful effects on humans, and on animals swallowing them. “Our next generation is sitting on consequences greater than the atomic bomb,” the court said.

Yet, when the talk turns to reducing our own carbon footprints, we turn a deaf ear. Guzzling less electricity and petrol or saying no to plastic bags? No sir, please excuse us.

World Environment Day is a call for each of us to sit up and reflect. Life isn’t all about grab-grab, waste-waste, though frankly that’s just the way we like it. This planet and all the wonderful things nature has created, belongs to us all. This world is miraculous in its infinite beauty and variety.
Domestic wastes need to be sorted into items that can be recycled or made into compost. We can mobilise support for recycling efforts within our community.

Industries drive economic growth, but they also produce pollutants and can exhaust natural resources. We can help mobilise public opinion within the community towards a change for the better. As aware and alert consumers, we can insist on buying products from businesses that have plans to sustain the environment; treat effluents before releasing them into the ecosystem, and invest in renewable energy. We must do our homework and ask questions.

Many of us will shoot down warnings and good advice, and continue in our wasteful ways. As long as our material greed flourishes, we will be hell-bent on exhausting the resources of our planet.

Scientists provide a ray of hope. Earth-like rocky planets fit for human habitation may be more common in the universe than stars, say planetary scientists at Australian National University. We can extend the use and throw culture to our earth, and junk it as we seek out new planets to colonise, exploit and devastate.

My complete essay on the subject is published in Sunday Herald

Monday, May 28, 2012

P U results in Karnataka; Dismal not Great

The recent jubilation over the highest in a decade pass percentage in PU exams set me thinking. I shot of my opinion, and an excerpt from it was published in the letters section in Deccan Herald. Here's the complete, unedited version.
The recent report on the pass percentage in the PU exams of 57.9% made headlines for being the highest in the decade. Is this a matter of pride or worry?  This raises an uncomfortable question of the relevance of the current system. SSLC and PU exams are meant to set a benchmark for the minimum knowledge a candidate must possess after schooling. In other words they test whether the educational system has achieved its objective of educating a child. It is not just a test of the child but of the system as well. A student who scores 57.9 % in her exam is termed mediocre. Then what does one say of a system of education that is proud to deliver 57.9% results?
Somewhere something is very wrong. As a benchmark are the standards set unreasonably high? That is probably not the case. The state government asks for time to bring the level of PU education at par with Central Boards when requesting a delay in implementation of a National Common Entrance. These are Boards boasting of much higher pass percentages. The pass percentage of government run CBSE schools [excluding the elite Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas] in Class XII exams stood at 83.98% last year .The overall passing rate of CBSE in Class XII exams was 81.71% last year. This year’s results are awaited. If you think it unfair comparing a state board with a central board, neighbouring Tamil Nadu had an even higher pass percentage in Class XII of 86.7% this year.

A thorough relook at the curriculum is necessary. Is it teaching what we want children to learn? Emphasis on abstract theory with little mention of practical application makes a curriculum difficult to grasp. Unless a curriculum aims to promote better understanding of the subject, rote learning soon renders it meaningless. A student who gets the impression of studies being devoid of meaning and application looses interest in such an education. The numbers game where marks are all that count, is an incentive for shortcuts. Interestingly Andhra Pradesh Board has replaced marks with grades in this year’s Class X results.

It is easy to blame government colleges with their well known deficiencies in infrastructure and manpower.  Karnataka has numerous private colleges too. Undoubtedly they too contribute to some of these failures despite having better resources. Coaching institutes have proliferated in towns and cities offering to remedy the deficiencies of the formal education system. Students still fail.

Exams test a student’s performance of that hour. A system that includes evaluation of student performance throughout the year will do much to reduce the “luck” factor in exams. This would recognise consistency and provide feedback to both teacher and student about those falling behind. Timely intervention could then help them improve.

Exam evaluators are an overburdened lot. With too many papers to evaluate and too little time to do it, leaves the best person error prone. Great is their responsibility in deciding the merit of a student. Their remuneration must match their responsibility. A student who deserves to be failed also deserves to know the reason why. This would help her identify her shortcomings and improve next time, besides bringing transparency to the system.

Congratulations are due to all those successful. Spare a thought for those who failed. In a system unlikely to change in any hurry, family and friends are the last hope. A family that understands that marks are not everything, will help the child who failed to emotionally cope with a poor performance. A family that is supportive and not judgemental is the best healer for all the agonies of these children. It is to be remembered that no student intends to fail. Post results suicides ritually follow declaration of results. We can but try our best and hope for a better system. A system where no child should feel that life is not worth living.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Encountering the 'Other'


Encountering the ‘OTHER’

What is the ‘Other’? In its simplest sense, anyone or anything that is not ‘you’ is the‘other’. So the alienation begins. Since the other is alien, there is a separateness, and a rejection between the two. At the same time, the attempt is towards assimilation, you want to change the other to become more like you. You may do this by employing the processes of love and care, but also making clear that you are superior in your difference, the other must become more like you. If this does not happen through positive efforts, you reject and try to remove the other, for as long as there is the other, you have to be assertive as the better one. The rejection also may be a rejection of your own self if you recognize much of this in the other.
There are therefore many forms of ‘other’. In language and place, everything about the other attracts and repels, but its existence is evident, its pull even more so. That is why we travel, why we seek a certain novelty, why we embrace or get repelled by what we see, hear or fail to understand. We may often find ourselves more at home with the others. The concept of the other has entered the realms of philosophy, gender, race, fantasy and sci-fi, politics and power, among others.
Poet, short and story writer Abha Iyengar hosts 23 writers on encountering the 'other.''#15 of the Language Place Blog Carnival.   Check out the fascinating stories from diverse pens, including mine, at
Three cheers for the power of blogging for connecting so many views from around the world.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

what makes me tick?

What makes me tick? or go clickety clack tippety tap on the keyboard? Millions and zillions of things, and sometimes all those things keep me so busy, I don't clickety clack for a while. But everything gets jumbled in the deep corners of my mind, and some day, when everyone's forgotten those things ever existed, they come out of hiding. First weaving themselves into little stories, then maybe bigger ones.

Here's a freewheeling and snappy little interview of mine in DNA YA which captures a quick snapshot.

Hmm, well sort of. Because every time I try to focus all those thoughts wriggling inside my head, the writing comes out different every time.

So what makes you tick? Even if you aren't eccentric enough to write or paint or... um do so called 'creative' stuff, the fact is, we are all creative in our own ways.

So what makes us connect ideas in our heads, and think of something new? Visitors here, please do share.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Our culture and child abuse

I was deeply moved by the significance and beauty of Nathdwara Pichwai paintings (See post and link to complete article in previous post below). What touched me most was how devotees worshipped Lord Srinathji as a divine child; a sweet, adorable, mischievous yet loving child.

In a land where the divine child is worshipped with such affectionate devotion, why are countless children being abused in various ways? The recent deaths of Baby Falak and Baby AfreenThese child abuse cases are only the tip of the iceberg in our society. Not only
fathers, but even mothers and other close relatives can be the active
perpetrators. Some people are simply not fit to be parents. Producing a child
can be a social fashion statement, and there are cases of even educated parents
who perceive their children as chattel/expendable extensions of their own egos.

However we may squirm at the attendant media hype, sensationalising cases such as Baby Falak and Afreen's do serve a
purpose by drawing public attention to such issues. Only a few years ago,
Indians refused to even acknowledge that child abuse exists in our own society. We
liked to bury our necks in the sand and aver that this was some figement of
Western imagination. Indian parents and families were unchallenged authorities
for children. Recently, a young girl in Mysore was forced by her father to beg
because she did not perform as per his expectations in exams. Even in the recent
past, society would have turned a blind eye to underlying issues, and people
would have said it is a family matter, and the parents have every right to teach
their kids a lesson. Community leaders would have supported this.

Child abuse in India goes far beyond such sensationalised cases . Social malaise covers middle and upper classes, from female infanticides
and sex determination tests to 'honour' killings of young lovers . Too many
people have kids just to prove a social point, they dont want them or love them.

When will people like us realise the futile anomaly of worshipping the divine spirit of childhood in temples, and then turning a blind eye to the abuse of real children in the dirty streets outside?

Pichwai paintings of Nathdwara

Paintings from the Nathdwara School occupy a special place in Indian art. Many are in the form of pichvais, which were created to be hung behind the idols in the temples of Nathdwara in Rajasthan. Each pichvai painting is considered to be a seva or offering to Srinathji, the seven-year-old balaswarup or child manifestation of Lord Krishna. The artists paint with a sense of deep devotion. The paintings usually depict scenes from the life of Srinathji, expressing the moods of different seasons and festivals.

Their deceptively simple style hides layers of spiritual significance and symbolism. Using basic colours, concepts and compositions, these paintings show how the whole world, including all living creatures, birds and animals, is Lord Krishna’s leela. It is imperative to trace the historical development of the Nathdwara School of Painting and study the factors responsible for its distinctive imagery, holds eminent contemporary artist, scholar and author Amit Ambalal. Delivering the Tasveer Foundation Lecture, he points out the importance of delving into cultural background, the philosophy of the sect, its colourful rituals, festivals and legends.

Nathdwara literally means the gateway to Lord Srinathji. According to legends, the idol of Lord Krishna was transferred in the 17th century from Vrindaban to protect it from the destructive wrath of Emperor Aurangzeb. When the bullock cart transporting the idol reached what was then a tribal village in Rajasthan, the wheels sank deep into the soil and could not be budged. This was taken to be the Lord’s chosen spot, and a temple was built there. Since then, Nathdwara has been home to Srinathji, the chief deity of the Pushtimarga sect. The Pushtimarga sect (The Way of Divine Grace), founded by Shri Vallabhacharya in the 16th century, is based on Bhagwata Purana scriptures.
Pushtimarga does not stress on asceticism, and holds that the way to spiritual salvation is through a celebration of earthly life.

To devotees, the idol of Srinathji is not a stone image. It is a living, vivacious divine child, who is regularly fed, bathed, dressed, sent out to play, and gives darshan to devotees eight times a day. The haveli is symbolic of Braja, and places all around it in Nathdwara are named to symbolise places important to Lord Krishna. Thus, Govardhan Chowk symbolises Govardhan Mountain. All the areas and dimensions of the temple complex are built as a miniature palace, so that child Krishna can feel at home.
My detailed article is published in Sunday Herald

Sunday, April 08, 2012

caucasian tribal carpets

 Viewing a recent exhibition of antique Caucasian
tribal carpets set me thinking. These beautiful and enigmatic patterns created by nameless nomadic tribal women can cast a spell on viewers. They  are silent witnesses to times gone by.

 Warm natural colours woven into striking geometrical patterns distinguish traditional carpets hand woven by tribals from the Caucasus region. The art of weaving vibrant, artistic carpets is considered to have originated on the plains of Central Asia or the Caucasus region nearly a millennium ago.
 The nomadic tribes needed something more manageable than their traditional sheepskin wraps to ward off the harsh winter chill. They used wool from their sheep and goats to spin yarn and weave it into carpets. Bright patterns and colours also made these carpets lovely decorations for their tents. Smaller carpets were woven as door coverings, or used as bags. Long, narrow carpets would be used as decorative bands circling the felt tents.
Other carpets were used for sleeping. These colourful carpets added welcome flashes of liveliness to the bleak, desert-like environment. With the passing of time, the tribes have settled into a less nomadic and more modern lifestyle. The creation of beautiful and unique carpets hand woven in the traditional way is now a dying art. Antique tribal carpets over a century old are now rare and prized as collector’s items.
tradition Weaving carpets is a way of life for women in the Caucasus region.

Carpet weaving was once an important part of tribal life. Traditional weavers were usually groups of women who gathered to share stories as they wove magic on their looms. The women wove abstract patterns representing things from nature into carpets.
The men usually sheared, carded and spun the wool from their sheep, and dyed the wool. Vegetable and mineral-based dyes such as indigo were used in the earlier tribal carpets. These colours have retained their rich, mellow beauty through the centuries. In the early twentieth century, weavers also used chemical dyes, says Indian collector Danny Mehra. Some of these early chemical dyes were called fugitive dyes because they changed colours or faded in the course of time.

Traditional tribal carpets were spontaneous compositions and not copied from a pattern or picture. The designs emerged from the weaver’s heart, gradually taking shape on warps (vertical yarns) strung on simple wooden looms. The looms were easily dismantled and carried along with partially woven carpets when the tribe shifted camp. These movements and variations in dye tints and yarns caused shifting lines in the weave.
These lines are called brushes, and they enhance the beauty of handmade carpets. As the weft or horizontal yarns were woven in and knotted one row at a time, dazzling patterns took shape. After the carpet was woven, the pile was sheared evenly. Then it was washed, says Mehra, and the colours were fixed by applying iron filings and other substances which remained on the surface and did not bond with the wool. Each carpet took months and even years to create, and they were symbols of the pride and joy of the weavers.

My  detailed article is published in Sunday Herald

Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Yellow Emperor's Cure

DH Graphics: Ramu MI recently had the pleasure of reading The Yellow Emperor's Cure by Kunal Basu. In this engaging historical novel, Kunal Basu takes us into China over a century ago, teetering on the cusp of the Boxer Rebellion. Exotic sights, sounds and tastes, the political equations and clash of cultures of the past play out in the backdrop as Dr Antonio traverses the world seeking a cure for a deadly disease.

Basu brings to life with finely crafted language the western hills hanging low “over the tiled roofs of pagodas, over palaces of lacquer and gold…children caught dragonflies on the banks of canals, and lakes brimmed with incandescent lilies.” The well-researched and vivid details strike the right balance, without miring the story in verbosity or slowing the pace.

The dashing and highly accomplished Portuguese surgeon Dr Antonio Maria is blessed with “the most precious pair of hands in Lisbon”. His friends consider him to be “rock steady with the scalpel, but a prize idiot when it comes to women,” for, while he is adept at flirting, he evades
settling down with a suitable lady. As this most eligible bachelor of Lisbon prepares to enjoy the bacchanalian feast of St Anthony, he is jolted out of his world of wine, women and gaiety. His dear father is losing his mind and body to syphilis, which in those days was an incurable scourge...
As the novel comes a full circle, Antonio says, “They’ve taught me to look inside the doctor to know what makes him suffer for his patients, what gives him hope and how to go on living even when he fails.” In the end, we love and admire him for his sincerity, for weeping “for all those he’d loved but failed to save.” As he emerges through the many upheavals of his life, Antonio evolves as a man and as a doctor. “Whereas in the past he’d worry over curing a patient, it troubled him now to think of those who must somehow go on living with the burden of their loss.”

A large and varied cast of characters animates the novel, from Portuguese aristocrats, western diplomats, merchants, spies and intrepid Christian missionaries to decadent Chinese rulers and nobility, concubines, Chinese doctors and a pair of palace eunuchs. Many however, come across as uni-dimensional rather than fully rounded personalities throbbing with a unique inner life. ...
As for the historical backdrop, the Boxers and their cause remain sketchy till the end. A more detailed and involved portrayal of the individuals and events related to this upheaval would have added to the overall immediacy of the novel. Despite these factors, the book succeeds as a striking and memorable read

My detailed review of this book is published in Sunday Herald

Monday, March 19, 2012

Surpanakha's story

Occasionally doing a Google search of one's name can throw up all sorts of suprises.
I'd submitted my short story 'Dhatura' to Indiacurrents Katha fiction contest last year. My story was not listed among the declared winners of the contest, and hadn't heard a peep from them since. The contest rules say they can use selected stories for a period of one year in any way they choose, but till date, nobody ever informed me that the story was indeed 'selected' for anything at all,

Now after a few days short of a year, I Googled my name and, surprise surprise, found my short story Dhatura published in

The story is based around an episode in the Ramayana, and it's for adults. People I meet often label me as a 'children's writer'. I understand how convenient it is to pigenonhole people into slots. Time and attention spans are diminishing by the minute, and everyone wants to gloss over things before moving on to something else.

I DO write fiction for children and teens and thoroughly enjoy it. But I also write fiction for adults and non-fiction as well. Writing in each genre requires focusing one's thoughts and ideas and working hard to polish every sentence and paragraph. My writings remain an unseemly bundle refusing to fit into any practical and easy to classify slot.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

fashion photography as art

Fashion photography as art? Meaning those inane airbrushed images of models in clothes which nbody will every wear in real life? I always thought of fashion photographs as a marketing and publicity tool, glossy stylised images to make viewers drool or gape over people and situations light years away from real life concern. To me they were aids to escapist tendencies, entertaining images to pass idle time.

Viewing Norman Parkinson's iconic fashion plates from six decades ago gave me a fresh perspective. Norman Parkinson was the original innovator. He took fashion photography from formal studios out into the fresh air. Exotic locales from Africa and Asia formed the backdrop for many of his iconic images. Dashes of humour, touches of the absurd made his images unique. He managed to balance multiple effects and pull of an aesthetically pleasing whole. Imagine a dainty model in high fashion clothes posing beside a cow, or a snake charmer intently guiding his snake to dance! Spectacular backdrops weren't a must for his shoots. Some images are shot in blank London alleyways or nest to a rustic barn in the English countryside. Only Parkinson could carry off such ideas.

Later fashion photographers have by and large merely carried on with the concepts pioneered by Parkinson.
My detailed article can be read in Sunday Herald

Saturday, February 04, 2012

teaching and learning

I've never been a professional teacher. I'm a lifelong learner. I had a briefest of brief brush with teaching many years ago. Some rose tinted memories are shared in my personal essay published in Teacher Plus Magazine 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Law of Averages

Say it loud. We're average and we're proud! Do we, as a society, worship the average and nurture mediocrity? Do we, with our actions and inactions, not only uphold the mundane and below-par, but also resist agents of change? Aren’t we guilty of huddling together in our comfort zones of the pedestrian mainstream? Don’t we often find ourselves systematically focusing our efforts on pretending that superlatives in any field simply cannot exist? We complacently justify ordinariness in every sphere of life. Mediocrity in public life and leadership, in books, or sports; this seems to be what the public wants and supports. But, does popular appeal alone justify shoddy work? Must we, Indians, continue to aspire to the lowest common denominator?

On the flip side of the coin, what’s wrong with being average, which also means normal, ordinary and usual? Must we be tossed into some social compost pit because we aren’t all Gandhijis and Einsteins? Does anyone have the right to judge us for swaying to commonplace but catchy tunes or enjoying hastily-patched-together pulp fiction? Last, but not least, must ‘average’ necessarily be equated with lack of skill, intellect and overall abysmal lack of quality?

My long rant on the subject is published in Sunday herald

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

chinese photography

IT"S NOT IT _ TOOL (Chu Chu/OFOTO/Tasveer)

I recently had the pleasure of viewing an exhibition of contemprorary photogrpahy from China. One of the most ancient and progressive civilisations in the world, China is surrounded by an aura of mystery. Making giant strides in economic growth and technological progress, China continues to remain enigmatic to the rest of the world in many ways. An exhibition of the work of six contemporary Chinese photographers, which has been made possible by Glenfiddich, Tasveer and OFOTO Gallery, Shanghai, seeks to throw fresh light on the complex culture of China today.

Chu Chu’s series, ‘It’s Not it – Tool’, for example, shows everyday objects such as a wok, a spanner, scissors and a hammer from unusual perspectives, encouraging viewers to perceive them as objects of art transcending their mundane functionality. These larger-than-life images in black and white shades encourage an appreciation of their forms, rendering the familiar with fresh aesthetic appeal. Viewing these objects from unusual angles and perspectives, one wonders about the human stories behind the people who created and used them.
China is the world’s most populous country. Yet people are conspicuous by their absence in most of these photographs. What we see is things they have created and used; homes, skyscrapers, elevated roadways, tools and objects of daily use. Through these images, these Chinese photographers are exploring and responding to cultural and economic sea changes sweeping their land, and their effects on their deep-rooted cultural values. Works such as these have intrinsic artistic value. They do not pose direct criticism or political challenges, but are suggestive of wider issues, urging the viewer to ask far reaching questions and seek answers.  My detailed article is  published in Sunday Herald

Monday, January 02, 2012

wishlist for 2012

As a 

As a new year dawns, what do ordinary folks like us wish for ourselves and for the world? Here's my wish list for 2012, May democratic values and peace rule, may every child have proper food, healthcare, education and most of all, the hope to be born. And if we do follow our human instincts and end up nuking our earth or smothering it in noxious wastes, let us take heart. Let’s hope to colonise Mars and discover other habitable planets out there to explore, exploit and devastate. Read my detailed take in Sunday Herald