Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Of School Reunions and Bachpan At Pachpan!

An excited bunch of men and women in their mid-fifties descend on their school for a long-awaited reunion. A lifetime has passed since they left the portals of their alma mater for what lay ahead: namely college/university, job, profession, marriage, kids and so on and on. When they left, they had dreams in their eyes and a little sorrow in their heart for the wonderful life they were leaving behind.

A life of sharing little secrets with school buddies. Of seeing an errant student being made to stand outside the classroom by a disciplinarian teacher. Of sitting on the hard bench with a classmate during classes. Of enjoying meals during the lunch break. Of getting toffees from the one celebrating his or her birthday. Of spending nervous moments before the annual exams. Of eagerly awaiting the sound of the bell announcing the recess. Of going on picnics under the watchful eyes of the accompanying teachers. Of singing prayers during the morning assembly everyday. Of small fights over things that seem so insignificant now.

The school had witnessed all this and more. Several generations of boys and girls had spent their formative years in these premises. They had transformed from innocent little children to somewhat awkward adolescents in this very place. When they parted, they had no idea if they were going to see each other ever again. Messages of love and friendship scribbled hurriedly in diaries or autograph books on the last day of school were to be some of the few links that they would have with one another in the years to come. With the modest means of communication available in those times, it was going to be very difficult to stay in touch.

Fast forward to four decades later. Thanks to modern communication systems, long lost friends found each other. And what a joy it was to be able to have a conversation with your chums at the click of a button. Or to be able to see what he or she looks like, on the small screen in your hands! Contacts quickly established, whereabouts found, everyone was now longing to see their classmates in person. After months of meticulous planning, when the day finally arrived; all of them became young boys and girls again...standing in the school compound greeting and hugging their friends amidst shrieks of hysteric laughter.

The awkward teenagers had metamorphosed into elegant ladies and suave gentlemen. Days of struggle to get established in their chosen careers were way behind them. They had found their path, their life partners, and had successfully discharged their duties as parents. Why, some of them were even grandparents now! And then suddenly they had found their childhood once again. 

How comforting it was to be in one another's company! It was as if the decades of separation just evaporated or melted away. There was banter, food, singing, dancing, photo sessions and a lot of catching up. And promises to meet again soon. Everybody realized what fun it was to let out the child hidden in you. Yes, bachpan at pachpan is simply awesome! 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Kerala Kaleidoscope

Kerala---the land of coconut trees, backwaters, elephants, Kathakali, Kalaripayattu, Onam, pookalam, banana chips, avial and much more! When you visit Kerala, your eyes feast on the colour green all the time. White clothes sported by the local people and red tiled roofs of houses and buildings present a beautiful contrast. I returned from a short visit that took me to the port city of Kochi, to the mountains of Munnar and Thekkady and to the backwaters of Kumarakom. Sharing a few images here.

The Chinese fishing nets are one of the tourist attractions in Kochi. We got to see them being operated on a warm Sunday morning not very far from the St. Francis CSI Church in Fort Kochi. The horizontal nets that were held in place by huge rocks used as counterweights were being pulled out of the water by a group of several fishermen hoping for a good catch. They did get some catch part of which was promptly snatched by the birds hovering nearby!

Fishermen enjoying a break on a routine working day!

St. Francis CSI Church is the oldest European Church in India. It was originally built in 1503. When the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama died in Kochi in 1524, he was laid to rest in this Church. His remains were moved to Lisbon 14 years later. Hordes of foreign and Indian tourists flock to this Church because of the historical importance attached to it.

A doll resplendent in Kathakali finery in one of the street shops in the Jew Town in Kochi.

Typical Kerala cotton sarees in cream and gold! Very elegant!!

From the coast to the hills! Mattupetty (1700 metres) is just a short distance away from the hill town of Munnar. Blessed with tea estates, treks, forests, a dam and a lake...Mattupetty offers a lot to nature lovers.

The tree estates in Munnar are simply stunning. As far as the eye can see, the earth is covered with a lush green carpet of rich velvet. The smoky blue hills in the distance and the mist in the atmosphere add a dreamy look to the landscape. As you stare out of your bus window, you are treated to this lovely spectacle. And you wish the bus ride would never end!

Eravikulam National park...the first national park in Kerala. It is home to Nilgiri Tahr. Offers spectacular views of clouds, valleys and hills.

Another view from the park!

A tranquil moment in the expanse of the sprawling Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary.

A submerged tree in the Periyar lake. You see many of them when you take a boat ride in the huge lake.

Another submerged tree with pretty colours in the trees along the shore.

The scene changes from the hills and the lake to the backwaters. We are in Kumarakom!

A boatman trying to earn some money by offering rides to tourists in the bird sanctuary in Kumarakom.

Daily life along the backwaters. Houses, small boats, clothes hung out to dry. What looks exotic to us is routine for the locals.

As if the greenery all over is not enough, the boats are painted in green too! In Kumarakom.

A ride along the picturesque backwaters in Kumarakom!

A hurried parting shot of the last of Kerala landscape before reaching Kochi to return home!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bajrangi Bhaijaan: Brotherhood On The Border

According to the box office figures, "Bajrangi Bhaijaan" (BB) has been a very successful film, a blockbuster. Loved by audiences in India and Pakistan alike, this film has managed to walk the tightrope of winning viewers over on both sides of the border. Full of cliches, stereotypes and naivete, how does BB manage to do that? Easy. By pulling on the viewers' heartstrings at the correct places. Often, when addressing people's emotions, one runs the risk of being overly sentimental and weepy. BB's magic lies in the fact that it serves the potpourri in the right proportion. So, what you get is a delicious mix of emotion, humour, drama and patriotism; all rolled into a very palatable dish, ready to be savoured by one and all.

Another feather in BB's cap is that it does not claim to be arty or intellectual. It is a mainstream film with all the baggage that comes with a commercial motion picture. So, it does not shy away from a long and at times rambling first half, having a leading lady when none is required and the ubiquitous song and dance. But this masala goes hand in hand with the tale of the speech-impaired little girl Shahida/Munni from Pakistan who is separated from her parents, and her magnanimous saviour: the affable Pawan Kumar Chaturvedi aka Bajrangi (Salman Khan in a softer role, a clear departure from his image).

This Hanuman devotee is polite, truthful, honest and belongs to the category of people who listen to their heart, not mind. Our little visitor from across the border is fortunate to be in his company. She is in the safest of safe hands. In spite of not knowing how to go about it, and not having any resources; he takes it upon himself to reunite the child with her parents across the border.

From then on, it is a sequence of several situations that the mind may question, but the heart gives a thumping go-ahead to. We meet many lovable characters along the way: the blunt and practical Boo Ali who knows the border inside out (pun intended!), the affectionate Maulana (Om Puri in a special appearance) who is an important link in the whole operation, the bumbling TV news reporter Chand Nawab (Nawazuddin Siddiqui in another memorable role) who joins Bajrangi's cause, and many others representing the army and the police in Pakistan. 

I particularly enjoyed some lines that came out of the blue, said little, but meant a lot. For instance Chand Nawab says, "nafrat bechna aasaan hai par mohabbat..." when TV channels refuse to air his story on Bajrangi, the person playing Kareena's dad says, " doosron ki madad karne se pahle apna mask theek se pehno" when Bajrangi brings home the lost Shahida, and the Maulana says, "Kashmir...thodasa hamaare paas bhi hai" when Bajrangi thinks he has to go back to India in order to visit Kashmir.

The climax at the border, though a bit long-drawn, has been shot quite well. You kind of "know" that such a situation involving so many people on either side of the border is not possible in real life, but you "wish" it happened! At that point in the story, it does not matter which side of the border you are standing on. You become a part of the collective euphoria and exult in the happenings unfolding on the screen in front of you. Certainly a "winning" moment for the director and his team!

The Kashmir landscape has been captured beautifully. Equally stunning are the desert views. Purani Dilli is colourful, chaotic and charming. The shots of the Samjhauta Express that runs between Delhi and Lahore are magnificent. Cricket, the favourite game in both the neighbouring countries has been woven meaningfully in the story. And Harshaali Malhotra as little Shahida is a great find. She emotes with her lovely face and large eyes, without saying a word. Kareena Kapoor Khan has nothing much to do, other than dancing to a mediocre "chicken" song, looking pretty in exquisite stoles and huge earrings, and handing a mosquito repellent coil to Bajrangi saying "yahan machchhar bahut hain". Wonder if she was plugging any particular brand!

This is the first Kabir Khan film I saw, his earlier ones being "Kabul Express" (2006), "New York" (2009) and "Ek Tha Tiger" (2012). Will be looking forward to seeing more of his work.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Flowers From Korea, With Love!

Ggotggozi (or Ggotgozi) may be difficult to pronounce, but what it stands for is sheer beauty. It is the Korean art of flower arrangement!

The gallery at the Inko Centre in Chennai played host to an exhibition of this art from June 18 to 20. Inko Centre is an entity that is established with an aim to promote inter-cultural dialogue between India and Korea. This flower exhibition was one of their various activities.

As I entered the gallery, several cheerful arrangements greeted me with their colours and a faint, sweetish scent.

They stood elegantly in simple vases lined along the white walls. Leaves, twigs and flowers creating open, flowing designs that not only appeal to your senses, but also calm them.

Each arrangement soothes you, trying to hold your attention for just a wee bit more time, the tall twigs in them literally standing out proudly.

Sure, there are bright colours, but they are not overbearing. There is space, and a delicate lightness about the creations on display.

Talented artists representing different flower associations in Korea had put together this show in Chennai.

Flowers were especially flown in from Korea. Barring a couple of arrangements that had some dyed elements, all were natural.

Not much information is available on Ggotggozi. I wish the organizers had provided some, introducing this art to visitors in Chennai.

It would have been wonderful to meet the artists in person and get to know more about their art directly from them. But that was not possible.

However, their names are Lee Jong Im, Chairman, Im Flower Association--Jang Eun Ki, Chairman, Chang Hyun Flower Association--Kim Jung, Chairman, Ye In Flower Association--Kim Young Ae, Chairman, Bloomy Flower Association--Choi Myung Sook, Chairman, Korea Ggotggozi Association--Choi Jin Ok, Assistant Chairman, Korea Flower Arrangement Association and Chairman Ka Hyang Flower Association--Kivak Eun Joo, Chairman, in Chennai, India Git Bi Flower Association--Kim Joong Ae, Chairman, Git Bi Flower Association and Kina Eun Hee, Chairman, Eun Hyang Flower Association.

Photos by Lata
It was lovely seeing their charming creations! Hoping to see more of their art in times to come!!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

At The Regional Rail Museum In Chennai!

I discovered a nice little place in Chennai that many parents might like to take their children to. Why only children, it might be of interest to adults too; especially those who are train enthusiasts. It is the Regional Rail Museum. I did not know of its existence until a few days ago. Situated in the premises of the Integrated Coach Factory, it has exhibits that are both indoor and outdoor, technical and heritage. The ticket office is in an out-of-use train coach. Along with tickets, one can get miniature models of coaches and cards as souvenirs here. There is a small food court outside, actually it is more of a food stall.

I spent some time at the museum recently. It was hot, but the trees and other plants made walking in the outdoor exhibit area bearable. The indoor exhibits are full of information in the form of posters, pictures and models. But the outdoor is more appealing to the eye. The magnificent engines and coaches standing in the lawns are a photographer's delight. And there is a toy train too. Here are some of my pictures, taken both indoor and outdoor.

This beauty is one of the outdoor exhibits.

What is a rail museum without a toy train?

A tiny train, a small platform!

 This lovely fountain close to the toy train station is refreshing on a hot summer day.

 Where there is a train, there is a tunnel too!

 One of the paintings on the outer wall of the tunnel.

The indoor exhibits have several "to scale" models of old and new coaches. This is a model of a III class wooden coach.

 A double decker coach.

 An LHB air-conditioned chair car.

A large area in the hall is occupied by a running scale model in three different levels representing the Metro train, the suburban train and the MRTS. A view of Indira Nagar station.

And a running model train.

This gleaming Fowler Plough Engine (1895) stands elegantly just outside the main building housing the indoor exhibits.

Almost all the outdoor exhibits are equipped with ladders which help one to climb up to the cabins to see the interior. This ladder is attached to a steam engine. In another area, there is a gigantic crane too.

Members of Chennai Weekend Artists, a group of amateur artists have adorned some walls at the museum with their colourful and bright art. A pretty sample!

I am told that the paints are supplied by the museum, while the artists give their precious time and talent. The result is beautiful!

A little hut storing some maintenance or gardening tools has this impressive engine roaring out of its walls!

Friday, April 17, 2015

On Akshaya Tritiya, A look At Child Brides and "Rehaai"!

"Rajasthan gears up to prevent child marriages on Akshaya Tritiya*", screams a headline in one of the papers I was reading the other day. The accompanying report goes on: The Annual Health Survey for 2012-2013 says that over 14 per cent of the girls in the state were married when they were below the legal age of 18. According to Health Minister Rajendra Rathore, Accredited Social Health Activists and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives, paramedical staff, health workers and NGOs have been asked to prevent child marriages in their areas. A massive campaign in the state is making people aware of the fact that not only parents and guests, but all those involved in child marriages like priests, tent-house owners, caterers and band-owners could be booked under the Child Marriage Restraint Act, 2006.

With these measures, hope the figures for child marriages are much lower in the current Annual Health Survey. No doubt, the issue of child marriages is a serious one; but what made me realize its gravity is a Pakistani drama "Rehaai" that I watched recently. Just 15 episodes of intense drama drive home a social message so effectively that no other medium could possibly have. A child bride is not merely a statistic here, but a living breathing adolescent who undergoes the trials and tribulations of this social evil. And we, as viewers are left red-faced looking in the mirror it holds to the after-effects of this custom that thrives in parts of India and Pakistan alike.

Photo: UNFPA/Stephanie Sinclair
The story of "Rehaai" deals primarily with child marriage, but several other issues are woven beautifully into it. Like the desire for male offspring, pregnancy at a young age, polygyny and the insecurity it brings with it for women, confining women to home and hearth under the notion that it is against a man's pride to send his woman out for earning money, and domestic violence. But in spite of all this, it is not a weepy, depressing tale. It is a superb portrayal of grit and resilience shown by a bunch of women who are ill-prepared to handle situations that they find themselves in. If seeing them as targets of atrocities makes your blood boil,  looking at the way they face and fight the difficulties warms the cockles of your heart.

Kudos to the team of this wonderful drama. This is meaningful television at its best. The more I see of Samina Peerzada, the more I like her. She is brilliant as the troubled matriarch of this family, struggling to deal with the ways of her wayward son. Her talent is matched in equal measure by Noman Ijaz, who plays her headstrong son. Another significant feature of this drama is that it is played out in a lower/lower-middle class neighbourhood. The language, the dress sense of the characters and the whole ambience reflects their class with a blunt honesty. No opulent mansions, no flowery language, no fancy cars and definitely no designer clothes or jewellery. There is a certain "rawness" about the way it is presented, lending it its authenticity and credibility. Farhat Ishtiaq's story is accentuated by Mehreen Jabbar's nuanced direction. Watch out for her attention to detail. It brings the location alive on your screen.

Tailpiece: I watched this drama when Deepika Padukone's "My Choice" was doing the rounds on social and news media. The glossy women appearing in that video and the lines they were mouthing sounded inane, and paled in comparison with what the women did and said in "Rehaai" in terms of women empowerment. And no, being in that situation was not their choice!

*Akshaya Tritiya falls on April 21 this year.

Friday, February 6, 2015

यादों के आँगन में

पुराने मकानों को धराशायी कर वहाँ नई इमारतें खड़ी करना आजकल आम बात है. इसीसे जुड़ा एक सुन्दर लघुलेख मैंने पिछले दिनों अंग्रेज़ी में पढ़ा. बहुत ही तरल और हृदयस्पर्शी! न्यू इण्डियन एक्सप्रेस में २८ सितम्बर, २०११ को प्रकाशित रवि शंकर की यह रचना चंद शब्दों में अपनी बात कहती है. यह देखने के लिए कि क्या हिन्दी में भी वह बात बन पाती है, मैंने उसका तर्जुमा हिन्दी में किया है. मूल लेख की लिंक भी साथ है. पढ़ें और बताएँ!


अतीत की यादें किसी पुराने रिकॉर्ड की तरह होती हैं, जिसे छोटे बच्चों के कपड़ों या पुराने प्रेमपत्रों की तरह घर के कबाड़ख़ाने में सहेज कर रखा जाता है. उस रिकॉर्ड को बजाओ तो पता चलता है कि उसमें कई खरोंचें आ चुकी हैं और आवाज़ बार-बार टूट रही है; वह आवाज़ दिल को कचोटती है. लेकिन मन में गीत की वह धुन अब भी अच्छी तरह से बजती है...एक लम्बा अरसा गुज़र जाने के बावजूद!

अपने बचपन के घर में लौटकर उसे कुछ अजीब-सा लगा, जैसे वह एक परिचित अजनबी हो. वह घर जल्द ही बिकनेवाला था. पीली पड़ चुकी दीवारों पर आँगन के पेड़ की छाया ऐसे दिख रही थी जैसे किसी दैत्य के हाथ हों, बचपन की रातों में हिलते हुए वह हाथ बहुत डरावने लगते थे. फिर वह उन इबारतों को खोजने लगा जो बचपन में उन्होंने गुप्त जगहों पर चोरी-छिपे लिखी थीं. शायद बाद में पुताई करनेवालों की नज़रों से वे बच गई हों, क्योंकि उन जगहों तक वही पहुँच सकते थे जिन्हें उनके बारे में जानकारी हो. वह एक छोटी लड़की की धुँधली हो चुकी तस्वीर उठाने के लिए नीचे झुका. शायद साथ ही पड़ी अस्त-व्यस्त पन्नों वाली अभ्यास-पुस्तिका में से यह तस्वीर नीचे गिर पड़ी थी. एक मुस्कुराते हुए चेहरे के दोनों तरफ लाल फीते के फूलों से सजी दो चोटियाँ, काजल से गहराई आँखें जो धूप की वजह से बंद हो रही थीं; एक पल के लिए हवा का झोंका कहीं से चमेली के फूलों की खुशबू लेकर आया और यादों के खज़ाने में से हँसी की आवाज़ गूँज उठी.

वह खाली कमरों में चहलकदमी करने लगा. जहाँ कभी चित्र टँगे होते थे, वहाँ अब ख़ाली चौकोर थे. छत में बड़े-बड़े छेद थे जिनमें से दिखनेवाले आकाश को छत की बल्लियाँ चिढ़ा रही थीं. चटके हुए फर्श पर फैले कूड़े के बीच पड़े चिड़ी के इक्के पर उसकी नज़र पड़ी. वह ऐसे मुस्कुराया जैसे किसीने कई बार सुना हुआ लतीफ़ा दोहराया हो. लतीफ़ा तो अब मजेदार नहीं रहा, महज उसे सुनाए जाने की याद से चेहरे पर मुस्कुराहट छा गई. इसी घर के बरामदे में दोस्तों के साथ ताश खेलते हुए सुना लतीफ़ा. अब तो उन दोस्तों की कोई ख़बर ही नहीं है.

अनवर हुसैन की शृंखला "नॉस्टेलजिया" से साभार  

लकड़ी के जिन खम्भों पर ढलाऊँ छत टिकी हुई है, वह जल्द ही उखड़ जाएँगे. उसने गहरे रंग की उस लकड़ी को छुआ. उसकी उँगलियों ने वहाँ उसके पूर्वजों के स्पर्श को महसूस किया. मगन होकर नाचनेवाले फ़कीर की तरह अपनी बाँहें आकाश में फैलाकर सूरज ढल रहा था. उसने मलाबार का वह सूर्यास्त देखा, जहाँ कई-कई रंग बिखर रहे थे, ठीक उसके गीत के सुरों की तरह. उसे लगा उसने घर के अन्दर से अपनी माँ की पुकार सुनी. माँ के हाथों की बनी कॉफ़ी की विशिष्ट तेज़ सुगंध भी उस तक पहुँची. उसने एक झटके के साथ मुड़ कर पीछे देखा, लेकिन घर में कोई नहीं था.

बगीचे में पौधे बेतरतीब-से बढ़े हुए थे. आँगन में कई दिनों से झाड़ू नहीं लगी थी और यहाँ-वहाँ कूड़ा फैला हुआ था. लेकिन वहीं पर तुलसी वृन्दावन ऐसे खड़ा था जैसे इस बीच इतने वर्षों का अंतराल गुज़रा ही न हो. सफ़ेदी किया हुआ ईंटों का चौकोर चबूतरा, जिसमें दीया रखने के लिए छोटे-छोटे आले बने हुए थे ताकि दीये को हवा न लगे. पौधा हरा-भरा था. उसके पत्तों की भीनी खुशबू उस शाम को महका रही थी. उसने तुलसी के एक पत्ते को अपनी उँगलियों के बीच दबाया. उसके सुगन्धित स्पर्श से उसे सुकून मिला. जब उसने देखा कि पौधे के नीचे की मिट्टी नम है, तो उसे बहुत अचरज हुआ. पिछले कई दिनों से बारिश नहीं हुई थी. उसने नीचे झुककर आले की ओर देखा तो वहाँ रखा मिट्टी का एक दीया उसे दिखा. उस दीये में तेल के धब्बे थे. किसीने यह दीया पिछले दिनों जलाया था.

वह मुस्कुराया. उसकी जेब में रखा फ़ोन बज उठा. घर के खरीदारों की तरफ़ से उनके एजेंट का फ़ोन था. शायद पता करना चाहता था कि वह कितनी जल्दी घर के कागज़ात पर दस्तख़त कर सकते हैं. उसने फ़ोन नहीं उठाया.

मूल अंग्रेज़ी रचना: रवि शंकर , न्यू  इण्डियन एक्सप्रेस, २८ सितम्बर २०११

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Playing With Clay!

Kalakshetra Foundation is hosting Earth Matters II, a month-long Indo-Korean Ceramic Residency in its sprawling campus in Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai from 19 January to 23 February 2015. It is being organized by the InKo Centre in association with the Arts Council Korea (ARKO), Lalit Kala Akademi and the Kalakshetra Foundation. This project is the second in the series in India. The first edition took place in January 2012.

The residency has brought together 12 ceramic artists--six each from India and Korea. They are Kim Seungtaek, Kim Jaegyu, Jung Hyesook, Kim Younghyun, Yoo Euijeong, Son Jinhee, Zaida Jacob, Phalguni Samanta, Srinia Chowdhury, Nidhi Chopra, Ashish Chowdhury and S Potrarasan. The residency will be followed by an Indo-Korean Ceramic Exhibition at Lalit Kala Akademi in Chennai from 25 February to 5 March 2015.

I was happy to be able to spend some time and see the artists at work at the studio in Kalakshetra. They looked happy to be working there too. There was friendly banter, laughter and sincere work, all happening at the same time in the serene locale on a bright January afternoon. Here's wishing all the artists a great time at the residency!

Since their work holds a visual appeal, I decided not to write about it in words, and let some more pictures from the studio speak instead. Take a look!